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Absences

“I could never have imagined that an absence would take up so much space, much more than any presence.”

— Ana María Matute*

Photo by Getty Images

Not being or not existing, better known as "absence," is, at least as far as I am concerned, one of the most paradoxical concepts that I have had to get used to. The lack of what used to occupy a space and no longer does covers an enormous area. The absence of a loved one becomes so gigantic that it squeezes our bones until we are left breathless.

And yes, it may sound cheesy, but few things are as overwhelmingly present as absence. Whether it is one's absence or someone else's or related to a place, a circumstance, or something material, absence always screams louder. It is not easy to understand it either, and it would serve us better if we stopped wasting time trying to do it.

The great paradox

My life has been filled with absences—of family, friends, places, homeland, and sense of belonging. Ironically, to stop feeling like a victim of its influence, I had to recognize its power over me and accept that, as much as it hurt me, I had endured his oppression for many years.

When someone leaves, their withdrawal leaves a much more significant void than their "being there" occupied. Resigned, we surrender to grief and try, with some courage and a lot of resignation, to continue pretending to live, day after day, lying to ourselves that something or someone will fill that hole. And so, we avoid looking towards the place where what was before is no longer, or walking through a site that is not what it used to be, nor smelling, listening, nor thinking about anything that will rub that absence on our face. This paradoxical attitude further amplifies that painful absence in the attempt to banish even the memory itself, the last vestige of what is longed for and lost.

When the absence is our own, the setting is similar, but, this time, we are looking from the stage, not the seats. Diluted between intertwined thoughts and plans overwhelmed by inaction, our ability to exist dissipates slowly but inexorably. Sometimes, we cannot recognize the moment when we disappear, give up control, let go of the reins, or allow someone or something to determine who we are and how we behave.

I reiterate: It is a process that bides its time to steal our own. We place obstacles before goals, costs before values, and eventually end up confusing waiting with sterile inertia. And so we disappear, wrapped in a fog of doubts and self-reproaches, feeling like victims instead of warriors.

No one is safe from being absent.

No one completely avoids letting themselves disappear at some point. Certainly, I have not been the exception.

My months-long absence has no excuses, but reasons. Personal ones that I will not share because doing so would add nothing. Suffice it to say, I'm glad to be on my way back. Yes... "on my way back," not "back," because it is a slow process that requires firm and safe steps that I am taking with determination and caution.

I plan to continue counting on your company in these digital realms.

With any luck, we will be able to fill some empty spaces.

* Ana María Matute was a Spanish novelist, member of the Royal Spanish Academy - where she held the "K" seat - who in 2010 won the Cervantes Prize. Matute was one of the most personal voices in 20th century Spanish literature, and she is considered by many to be one of the best novelists of the post-war Spanish novel.

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