The Texture of Absence

“Only those who know relation and who know of the presence of the You have the capacity for decision. Whoever makes a decision is free because he has stepped before the countenance.”

-Martin Buber, I and Thou


Textures in Geneva, 2013.

Scene No. 1: The distilled mixture of solitude and loneliness in my wife’s traveling absence is a curious tonic in my cup. It is the house favorite in June and a bit heavy on the bitters.

Scene No. 2: Visa restrictions have prevented me from traveling to Norway to help train young leaders in our movement. Limitation reveals a familiar villain.

Scene No. 3: One of my closest friends in Geneva is getting married this week. Secondary characters get ready to make introspective soliloquies.

Libretto: All of these are scenes of a vanishing act. The absence of a person, of an experience, and of a relational status. How we look at them —the road before us, the empty room we sit in, or the 2 people standing in a place where we are used to seeing 1— is as much about carefully watching a space transformed as it is about how we see ourselves changing in relation to it.

Pay careful attention.


These absences force change because they demand that we reframe ourselves in relation to our world. They ask us to touch “emptiness” and perhaps call it by a different name. They grant us an opportunity to creatively reposition ourselves, and in doing so to re-present ourselves to ourselves as paradigm-shifted objects.

Never static. Never finished. Never unidirectional. Always sculpted by time and surprised with light.

Regardless, a memory dent is left where a space was once occupied.

So  you trace the textured lining of the empty surface with your index finger to remember how “empty” space feels and how deep the memory goes. The subtle bumps of fabric on your skin remind you of how finely detailed life’s surface can be. The layers under your pressure ripple and disappear into flatness. Your eyes take in new areas of light and darkness and you remember the genesis of things.

You begin to appreciate that absence is nothing other than the discovery of a different kind of presence.

‘Cause you know you left a hollow
Where your body cut an alcove

-Dustin Tebbutt “Breach”


5 thoughts on “The Texture of Absence

  1. I’m very glad to hear that, Lars.

    Right now it’s 6:28 am. I’m writing a technical report for the UN, and your comment has injected new life into me.

    Some find this essay too abstract to resonate with on a personal level or even to make too much sense of it, but I have a hunch that the piece itself is about a feeling—which is why the emphasis is on the texture of nothingness which is a something to some people.

    You have to have felt that emptiness to understand the way the words are ordered in the essay, because they refer to a very specific sensation or internal restructuring, and I do not go to great lengths to help the person unfamiliar with it.

    The thought process that comes out of it then only makes sense if you have known the hollowness that this refers to beforehand.

    What do you think? What were your thoughts after you read it?

    P.S. How do you like the new look of our blog?😉

  2. I find the words that strike an audience [of one or one million] most powerfully are those for which they were already searching. It’s the inexpressible longing we all have to give form to the inexpressible things inside us. Many go through life with only the vaguest sense of this gap; others see nothing but pain and fear in its depths. But still others stare out across the infinite chasm of conscious individuality, and, knowing it will never fully close, leap.

    These are the brave ones ~ the prophets and the poets.

    The work is rarely easy; language is feeble and limited. But it’s also beautiful, and piercing, and elegant.

    To speak varied tongues is to open oneself to new dimensions of consciousness. I’ve always admired the multilinguals of the world for this capacity – someday soon I’ll make good on my own ambitions in this regard. In any case, your skill with el pincel de la lengua [he ventures, hesitantly] has always impressed me, and frequently moved me.

    All meaning is derived from context; some meanings are so profound, or delicate, that they will only fully unfold in the most intricate of webs ~ ideas, experiences, sensations, rhythms, woven together in a vast quilt of neuronal connections only expressable through abstraction, or metaphor.

    You told me once, a summer ago, that it’s better to communicate for the sake of the things that will be understood ~ in spite of the things that won’t ~ than to refrain entirely for fear of the latter disparity. No matter how wildly different the paths of our lives, we all share fundamental contexts ~ “universal”, they call them ~ that warrant this noble effort. Speaking and listening; saying and hearing. When we share meaning, we share consciousness. To communicate is to *commune*, to enter one another ~ and through one another, the divine.

    I have known the hollowness of which you speak. The aching emptiness that makes sense only so long as you allow yourself to be defined by the boundaries of past experiences.

    “You begin to appreciate that absence is nothing other than the discovery of a different kind of presence.”

    It is no easy feat to overcome the sense of loss we feel when things we love go away ~ turning grief into growth. On the other hand, if you experience life with any degree of lucidity, it’s even more difficult to stubbornly hold on to meanings shaped by contexts past, as though the perpetual passage of time isn’t endlessly changing everything.

    Alan Watts uses the brilliant metaphor of human beings as waterfalls to describe this process… Matter and energy, flowing in and through a “body” ~ and, indeed, *constituting* the body ~ in a continuous cycle of renewal and re-formation. We breathe the air, we drink the water, we eat the food, it all goes in us, and becomes us, and leaves us in another form. Our sense of individuality, as entities that exist separately from the world we inhabit, is a delusion. We exist as expressions of the energy of the universe moving all around us and through us ~ before, during, and after us.

    From {star}dust you came, and to {star}dust you shall return.

    Right now it’s 2:53 am. It’s been a while since a collection of words demanded so forcefully to be written that I would re-frame my position in the space of the coming day for them, eschewing sleep and, perhaps, better judgment. A paradigm-shift of my own, on a less consequential scale ~ and one for which I have you to thank.

    Inspiration strikes when and where it chooses, and I’ve found it wise to pay deference to the divine muse whenever I find myself blessed by her company. Sleep be damned.

    I’m [ever] thankful to know you, Samuel.

  3. [Also]

    I love the vignette aesthetic in the first half of your piece. Scene No. 1, in particular, is a masterwork.

    The Tarkovsky reference was a treat; one of the many contextual parallels we are privileged to share with one another.. [and one of the most salient philosophical nuggets to have lodged in my brain from the good ol’ EJ days.. {I’m feeling the prideful desire to inform you that I didn’t need your (graciously provided) hyperlink to recognize Tarkovsky’s refrain ^_^ } ].

    AND.. I dig the new look. A lot. But you’ve always had a great eye for visual appeal😉


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