The Distance of the Lonely Runner (or something)

My parents are in the process of building a house. This is a pretty big deal, since their previous house, the one in which I grew up, had been their home for almost thirty years (longer, in my Dad’s case). They started the building process late last year, after having moved to my family’s property in western North Carolina when my Dad retired.The house is its own story (and it’s one that Mom and Dad have sent out in numerous emails in the last six months), but the part I want to focus on is (naturally, and myopically, enough) where I fit in. See, I grew up in that house in Virginia. I went to school at the University of Virginia. I worked for six years in Northern Virginia (which is not quite its own separate state, although maybe it should be).

Now, within the course of eight months, I’ve moved to the Boston area for school then to Seattle for a summer job, and my parents have left Virginia for good. Only my sister is still left in the state.

What I’m coming to understand as a result of all of this is something that I never really “got” before. My family’s roots are very strongly geographic, with my Mom’s family from Lancaster County, PA, and my Dad’s from the Asheville area in North Carolina (in fact, if you look at my genealogy, you can see just how far back those roots go). As a result, I think I confused geography with family connections for many, many years. What I’ve come to realize is that there’s a much harder process than building a house that I have to do—it’s continuing to communicate and visit with the family and ensuring that those connections never drop.

It’s a much harder job than designing an enterprise software system. Or building a house. Or writing a book. But a lot of people seem to be able to do it pretty successfully. As a coworker of mine said a bit wistfully this evening, “That’s what air travel is for.” Still, it seems like no matter how far we’ve come in communications, travel, and city design, we’re still faced with the basic fact that distance makes a huge difference in how we live our lives.