A Woodhousian Madeline

"I do not like it when people go away.  I know they must sometimes, but I do not like it."

So speaks Mr. Woodhouse, the pathetic paterfamilias of Jane Austen's "Emma."  Like many of her characters, he is a predictable trope, a cariacature of himself, and most readers find him downright irritating.  But I feel more and more of a connection with Mr. Woodhouse these days.

I was able to write a little when my sister left; what I couldn't write was the gnawing, grating emptiness that fills me each time I remember how far away she is, and how long it will be before I see her again.

My brother leaves us for months at a time, going to Montana in the summer and now, possibly, out of state for good to start a new branch of his business.  It is harder to write about how badly I miss him -- even when he's here, I miss him.  We inhabit different worlds: his is rocks and dogs and football, and mine is books and dinners and too many choking thoughts.  We are so far apart.  My friend Jessamyn comes close here (yes, that it is a long link, but trust me, it's worth it.)

Last month, some dear friends moved north.  It's "just for awhile;" he's in school up there.  But after school, depending on where the jobs are, there will probably be another move, maybe further away.  Their children are growing too quickly.  I miss them.

Another friend, a brother really, left for a year in an unstable African country last July.  I was able to say goodbye, barely.  But I saw him again last weekend, home for a family wedding, and this time I had to say goodbye for much longer.  This time I knew what it meant, the danger he is in and the loneliness I will feel without him here.  This time it was harder to let go.

I detest the Virtual Community revolution in part because, at its core, it is hollow and empty.  It is a poor substitute for flesh and blood, hugs and tears, shared glances and jokes.  This is especially true of all the people I've just mentioned -- siblings, friends, people who have moved south and north and west and had babies and joined the Coast Guard and made new friends to fill in the gaps.  When was the last time we were all together?  Probably a decade ago.  I left them first, to go to college; they scattered too, one by one, some bouncing back, some unable to resist the inertia of their new homes.  I guess it's my Woodhousian Madeline, that memory -- washing cars for the youth group, or playing and listening to music, or making up silly games to pass the time and put off homework.

I am certainly not so naive as to imagine I am the first person to miss people who move away and grow apart.  But it's hit me awfully hard, all of a sudden.  It's hard to be the one who's still here.