A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Importance of Space – Part 1

By Pā Piripi Cody SM

Valuing space 

In Linda Ellis’s Poem The Dash she focuses on the ‘dash’; the space between the dates of birth and death of a person, for example, 1944 2022.

Linda relates how a person, giving a eulogy on the death of a friend, referred to that ‘dash’ in their life. 

She argued that the years represented by the dash, the space between being born and dying, were what mattered most in their life. The space or dash marks the time they were alive. The challenge for them and for us is how much love and life they and we put into that space!

It is hard to imagine a life without space: space to eat, space to sleep, space to talk, space to exercise, space to stop; space, maybe just to do nothing! 

We have a lovely veranda on our house and sometimes I will just go and sit there. That space is invaluable. To feel the sun and breeze, to gaze at the view, to listen to the birds in the bush, to doze. All very refreshing. Yet much of the time I, and possibly you, are very ‘busy’, even anxious about doing something. What is next? What if there is nothing to do? 

Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ talks about ‘rapidification’ in our age and in the intensity of life and work. This is in contrast with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution around us.1 We need to learn how to use space.

Grieving needs space. After the death of a loved one, after shifting home, after losing or changing work… all sorts of grief, even grief at the state of the world around us. This needs time or space to take it on board and work it through. It is wise not to rush it. 

The importance of sitting with a ‘cup of tea’ and reflecting is so important. There is a tendency to ‘get it over with’ and ‘get back to normal’. That is not healthy at all. 

I remember a friend coming up to me after Mum had died. He was a farmer. Rather mystically he started to tell me, “You know I had a great dog. It was skilled at heeling sheep; it could even heel cattle; it listened and followed my whistles; it achieved so much. A true heeler. The dog’s name was ‘Time’”. Then he walked off and got a drink. It took some space for his message of ‘healing’ to sink in!

Talking of ‘cups of tea’, we can take heed of the wisdom of the late Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Drink your tea slowly and reverently
as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves
– slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life. 2

Called ‘mindfulness’, he captured the power of ‘space’, taking time to sip tea and hold yourself in the present.

Here are two examples, which in my opinion, are examples of ‘bad’ use of space.

All over the place new subdivisions are being built. What scares me is that they are jammed together with no real space between them. Yes, a fence right on the boundary and maybe a bit of lawn or tiny space for a garden. But space for trees and grassed curb and for children or elderly to sit and enjoy green space? Someone is rather greedy: how many houses can we squeeze in here? Not to mention space to use water well and allow for proper drainage.

My other bête noire is about fences. Why on earth are many erecting two metre high fences around everything? Yes, we need private space and security, but not being blocked off by what seems to be a packing-wood high fence! If we have a fence, let’s leave some spaces in it, a type of railing or trellis that allows someone to look in and admire a garden or to look out and see life beyond the boundary. 

I was struck by a friend who has just built a house and put up on the street boundary a lovely iron fence with good spacing in it. He said, “I want to be able to engage with people passing and maybe chat a little, or just sit on the deck and watch.” This is treasuring our space.

 1 Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Pope Francis on Care for our Common Home, 24 May 2015. Par 18.

 2 https://www.the-tea-chest.blog/2020/09/09/beautiful-tea-quotes-by-thich-nhat-hanh/

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