Seven time zones to the East of me

From an untitled event held in Belfast on 4th November, 2012. By Jon Hatch.

My wife and my children are on the other side of the world. Right now, they are seven time zones to the East of me.

If you open Google Earth and go to West Mayo, zoom in to 33,000 ft., point yourself toward the western horizon and click the button to head in that direction, it takes 40 minutes to reach Bigfork MT. You fly until you see land then keep going until you see mountains, turn north until you see the Canadian border, then fly west again until you see mountains, then south until you see Flathead Lake. How do I know? I’ve done it. Why? I was sitting on my bed one night and I was bored and I was lonely.

The actual travel takes from very early morning to very late at night. How do I know? I’ve done it. Last December. And I will do it again this December.

We have been separated from each other for over a year now. I won’t be able to live with them until next April, when I complete my academic studies.  It’s been a hard time for all of us. For this time in our family’s life, we have communicated with each other just like this: by skype. I see Iain and Eilís for ten minutes a day before they go to school. They have breakfast and I have lunch. My wife Amy and I skype once a week, on Saturday, for an hour or so. We also have email and Facebook throughout the day as well. But our face time is on Saturdays.

As challenging as it has been, I am not complaining. It’s a hundred times better than what a husband in Ireland and a wife and children in America a century ago would have had. When my grandmother emigrated from rural Roscommon to America in 1914, she never saw her parents or her five brothers ever again, ever. The 5000 miles that separated America from Connaught was as permanent as the grave.

But, for a time, my family’s life together has been devoid of much of its intimacy. We don’t touch each other. We don’t breathe each other. A one-second delay gives conversation its own special challenges. And yet the technology, which every so often feels so deficient, allows us an intimacy that was impossible for the generations before us. So, the intimacy of technology is intimacy nonetheless. It is intimacy with those far away, as I finally complete my research and writing on the estrangement of people who are very close to each other.

Belfast exists in the intimacy of estrangement. For four years I have concerned myself with those whose intimacy is that their back gardens share a nine-metre high barrier or their neighbourhoods share a locked gate. Much of their interaction is only negative, when a bottle or a stone is hurled from the other side.

I am not unaware of the irony that my life right now is a tension. It is a tension between one technology that invites those far away to intimacy and another technology that allows those very close to never meet.

In one sense, my family that I adore and long after are, for now, the ‘others’. In another sense, the people who made my family so unwelcome that they had to flee are, for now, intimate companions.

I am far away.
I am so close.
I am the other.
The other is me.


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