Friday, August 26, 2011

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea."

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, and scientist
The Advancement of Learning (1605), bk II, vii, 5.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Or je fais fin à mon adieu" (Marot)

This has been a difficult week for me--my oldest son left home for his first year of college a day after my daughter departed for her third. Both attend schools on the other side of the country; as we can only afford to fly them home for semester break, I won't see them in person until Christmas. As I watched my daughter disappear past the security checkpoint at the airport and the taxi whisk my son away to begin this new chapter in his life, I thought my heart would break. Good thing my six-year-old was there to hold the pieces together with one of his crushing hugs.

Goodbyes are always difficult, but at least I know--barring some extraordinary event--my children and I will be reunited in December. In the meantime, we can talk on the phone, text, even see each other via Skype. I have photographs I can look at, videos I can watch. When I think about the numerous means I have to make their absence less absolute, I can't help but wonder at how much harder it must have been to say goodbye centuries ago.

With travel as difficult and as slow as it was in the sixteenth century, journeys stretched past weeks into months and even years. Weather determined the condition of roads and the courses of ships, making an exact date of return impossible to predict. Brigands, accidents, illness, and war threatened to make any absence permanent. Letters, the only means of communication between those separated, took weeks or months to arrive, if they ever did. Portaits were a luxury; most people had to rely solely on memory to recall their loved ones' appearance and expressions.

It is easy to imagine situations for which a goodbye might have been forever. Sons and husbands marched off to battle, where a pike thrust, a cannonball or a bout of dysentery could easily thwart their return. Explorers and merchants embarked in creaking ships on treacherous seas to uncharted lands. Marriage removed daughters to far-off places to bear children, subjecting them to the dangers of childbirth. Today, we have multiple means of instant communication to reach out to loved ones at any given moment; in the past, a cloud of near impenetrable uncertainty engulfed the departing traveler at the horizon.

One can postulate the ways the people of the time coped with this uncertainty. As no one knew any different, perhaps they accepted it with calm resignation as the normal course of life. Many most likely found peace in their faith, entrusting their loved ones to divine protection. Others may have been distracted from their worry by the more pressing concerns of daily life. Some must have fretted, others pined. Imagining their responses--placing myself in the shoes of an emigrant to the New World, for example, who knows she will never again return to the land of her birth--helps me put my own feelings into perspective. Harsh as a present-day separation might seem, it little compares to those of the past.

As my children leave on their separate journeys, I rejoice in their courage and the opportunities that await them in the New Worlds they will inhabit. I, too, have a journey of my own to make, one that leads deep into an imagined world of kings and castles along practical paths of word counts and deadlines. Who knows, I might even find time to update this neglected blog on a more consistent basis! Trusting fate will be kind, I wish my children and myself Godspeed, knowing we will see each other soon and have much to show for our separation. In the meantime, ever grateful for your loyal companionship, I invite you to continue to accompany me on my writerly journey.