“From a Distance” is one of the most beautiful songs. Nancy Griffith sings it with one of the most beautiful voices. The world looks blue and green, there is harmony, there is a voice of hope and peace, and God is watching us from a distance.
Distance cancels out the small, little things. The fighting, the differences, the guns, the bombs, and the disease.
Distance is good because it gives us the bigger picture. We don’t loose the wood for the trees. Distance helps me to find a way out when I’m stuck, to find a new direction.
There was a time before the summer when I didn’t know what to do or where to go. There was the summer of distance, distance in many different ways. And now there is the autumn of “going forward”, even in difficult circumstances, but going forward, with confidence and determination.
We now know that there are steps to be taken, “going forward”. (Oh, how I hate that phrase when politicians use it as an empty shell!)
Pádraig has been “going forward” every day, leading the way.
“Distance” is no longer what it used to be. It’s no longer a choice. It’s necessary for survival. When you don’t keep it, it can make you sick and can kill you. But when you have to keep it unnecessarily, “just” because of your circumstances, it can make life, at a minimum, quite miserable.
It has been the official ambition of the Irish Government for the past nine years, since 2011, “to facilitate community living for all people with disabilities – regardless of age or severity of disability. More than this, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Ireland has ratified, recognises institutionalised facilities as a violation of human rights.” (Irish Times, 20 May 2020)
Yet, today, more than 1,300 young people with a disability are still looked after in a nursing home. Because of the pandemic, they are now locked away with no visitors and no direct contact allowed.
In addition, one sad reality during the pandemic has been that “a high proportion of deaths in Ireland (and indeed right around the world) have taken place in care homes. Living in these places makes it intrinsically difficult to physically distance oneself. (…) Living with any concentration of people categorised as “vulnerable” to the disease is a disaster waiting to happen”, say the authors, Gerard Quinn and Ann Campbell, in the same article.
And so, they say, “the Taoiseach rightly reflected on a future where we might have to rethink the wisdom of such settings and the wisdom of public investment in them.”
The Lady in Red must have spent hours getting ready for her visitors. Because she could. And wanted to look her best. She looks amazing. Her visitors more than appreciate her meticulous preparations. They smile, they wave, they take pictures.
She isn’t in heaven and she isn’t getting ready for Dancing Cheek to Cheek with Fred Astaire nor anyone else. She is in a nursing home, greeting her relatives from a distance.
Despite the appearance, this ain’t a happy picture. From neither side of the window. The smiles, the camera, the waves, the distance, are hiding the details of the misery. The distance here is imposed, it’s not helpful. The lady in red, as all the young people in nursing home, should be able to hug their family, to feel the warmth of their skin, to smell their breadth, to touch their hands – not the bold window.
How much longer will we allow the violation of the human rights of young people with brain injuries? How much longer will we allow these young people to be exposed to “the disaster waiting to happen” to them during this pandemic? How much longer will these young people be allowed to be seen only “from a distance”, through a glass window, by their families with whom they should be living in one household, safe, and “from a distance” from the pandemic brought into closely congregated settings?
How much longer will the government continue to fund these human right abuses instead of viable, appropriate, long-term alternatives?
Sometimes I think God could look a little closer, look not just look from a distance, to see the grey, hear the dissonance, and feel the desperation.