In a Time of Distance

In a Time of Distance

The unexpected always happens in the way The unexpected has always occurred: While we are doing something else, While we are thinking of altogether Different things — matters that events Then show to be every bit as unimportant As our human concerns so often are; And then, with the unexpected upon us, We look at one another with a sort of surprise; How could things possibly turn out this way When we are so competent, so pleased With the elaborate systems we’ve created — Networks and satellites, intelligent machines, Pills for every eventuality — except this one?

And so we turn again to face one another And discover those things We had almost forgotten, But that, mercifully, are still there: Love and friendship, not just for those To whom we are closest, but also for those Whom we do not know and of whom Perhaps we have in the past been frightened; The words brother and sister, powerful still, Are brought out, dusted down, Found to be still capable of expressing What we feel for others, that precise concern; Joined together in adversity We discover things we had put aside: Old board games with obscure rules, Books we had been meaning to read, Letters we had intended to write, Things we had thought we might say But for which we never found the time; And from these discoveries of self, of time, There comes a new realisation That we have been in too much of hurry,

That we have misused our fragile world, That we have forgotten the claims of others Who have been left behind; We find that out in our seclusion, In our silence; we commit ourselves afresh, We look for a few bars of song That we used to sing together, A long time ago; we give what we can, We wait, knowing that when this is over A lot of us — not all perhaps — but most, Will be slightly different people, And our world, though diminished, Will be much bigger, its beauty revealed afresh.

Alexander McCall Smith

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