Never Alone

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” ― Mark Twain

This last week started out with Valentine’s Day, our big romantic reminder of how much we need someone else in our life.  American values teach us to be rugged individualists. Remember those heroic images from the popular media? The cowboy riding off into the sunset? A man of few words. Even in space, Han Solo seemed to push others away. There’s all that detective fiction, the dark hero rescuing the damsel in distress while at the same time unable to save himself.

John Wayne in the Searchers | John wayne movies, John wayne, Western movies

Have you someone in your life?

“What you are to do without me I cannot imagine.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Mostly, I think we take the people in our life for granted. We complain about all the back seat driving until one day when we’re alone and keep making the wrong turns. When you’re alone you soon realize that one else is ever going to pick that up off the floor if you don’t. Now you remember all the picking up that someone in your life used to do – even the symbolic kind.

People in your life sit and listen, even when they seem to be bored silly with hearing that same speech, again and again. That’s what people do when they come into our lives, they sit and listen. When they’re gone you don’t realize the value of listening until you find yourself talking to strangers at Walmart – way too often.

Walmart sales surge on coronavirus-led demand | NHH

Work is becoming a harder place. That person in your life probably could use some encouraging words from nowhere with no motive whatsoever – even if it makes him suspicious. Your insight is the most valuable, your words are the most trustworthy. What you say, and say often, can end up counting the most.

It really is the little things that end up making things different.

How about doing some new math? How about subtracting the frequency of critical feedback and increasing the amount of positive words? Tip the balance in favor of that most significant person in your life. Treat her as if she were leaving tomorrow and you weren’t going to see her for months. Make today count for something extra.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.” ― John Joseph Powell

When people are disconnected from others for whatever reason there are a number of adverse effects that can pop up in other areas of life. Humans have a need for affiliation – we are socially wired, not designed to live as loners. Research tells us that when these needs are not met.

  • People can feel like other parts of their life are out of control (even when nothing has really changed).
  • Fuses become shorter and blow-ups happen more often – maybe it’s displacement – under the radar anger about loneliness without realizing it.
  • Sometimes when people are feeling disconnected, they become overly sensitive about other relationships – these feelings may or may not be expressed.
  • When alone too much, people experience a decrease in mental ability – it’s harder to think straight when you don’t have others in your life to talk it out with or to get feedback from.

Do you realize what you’re getting/giving when in the company of others?

We all need connections so that we can experience plain old companionship – even if it’s a silent drive together each Sunday morning to church. Just having a presence near is probably the most taken-for-granted dimension of our relationships. Physical nearness is an important expression of care and love. Going to the hospital and sitting with family in the waiting room really is a big deal. Don’t let anyone or even your own awkward feeling stop you from just going and sitting.

People need to get regular feedback from trusted people in their lives – we need to know what we are thinking by speaking it aloud and watching it get worked out through interaction with a trusted other. There’s also the feedback about the tie you’ve chosen or if you look fat in that sweater. Trust is an essential tie that binds us all.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” ― George MacDonald

There are all kinds of adventures and experiences of life that need to be shared in order to be fully realized. Touring the museum is fun, but only half as much without someone to share your thoughts, questions, and small talk. You won’t remember that view from the mountain as breathtaking as it was unless you were there holding another hand. Our brains need a social connection to be fully operational.

Don’t take for granted the plain old information that you gain from other people in your life. Mundane, trivial, answers to Jeopardy  – this type of information buzzes between people all the time. Then, there’s the important knowledge that gets shared between friends. Where did you find that deal on a new car? When we are with others we can’t help but be learning, albeit informally.

3,956 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” ― Thomas Merton

Do something about it tomorrow…

Just Surviving Today

“I want to suffer so that I may love.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

The past few days I have sat with people and heard some really terrible stories about loss, fear, death, grief, long-term suffering and loneliness. All at once. I would turn the corner and someone else would be there sitting across from me, sending me a text, sharing bad news over the phone or just opening up during a walk.

My colleagues and I have our students back this year. They seem so relieved to be back in person. But there are many who carry extra burdens. Families still hurt and struggle together. You can see it in the eyes peering over the masks. While I’m so happy to be in the classroom, there’s a shadow looming. It hasn’t been chased away yet.

When the pandemic struck and we were locked away at home, I started putting up post-it notes with names on them. I wanted to remind myself about other people who I frequently thought about – I didn’t want the current raging storm to distract me from thinking about other people who were bearing burdens in life. I’m reminded to pray, to send a note, to think past my own circumstances.

I’ve had this prayer by Thomas Merton posted for a long time. After the past couple of days, it seems like a helpful and healthy prayer and meditation. I’m reading it slowly and letting it soak in as I think about each person who’s crossed my path lately. I’d like to find a way to help. Sometimes, just listening and suffering together is enough.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

On the Road Again

I watched a national tribute to Willie Nelson last night. I think it was a rerun. He ended the event by singing a few songs. The last one was his trademark, “On the Road Again.”  That’s all of our stories – that metaphor works. We are forever on a journey, heading down a road to somewhere.

These days I’m having the hardest time being at the right place at the right time. I’ve got all sorts of calendars, digital “invites” and reminders – but to no avail. I’m still waking up confused at least once or twice a day.

This makes me think about my larger and symbolic journey through life. What kinds of appointments am I missing with my destiny? Did I forget to show up for an important rite of passage? What day of my life is it right now?

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think about it (while going to get some lunch because I messed up my calendar and ended up with a very disordered day) it seems there are markers in my journey through life. We were on the side of the highway recently, asking for help on the phone and were told we needed to keep driving forward until we reached a mile marker. The help was no use until they knew right where we were.

This same truth applies to all of us. Until YOU know where you are on your journey (what day of your life is it right now?) you’re not going to get very far. Spend some time and be reflective. Start a journal. Talk with someone about things that matter. Take a long walk regularly and talk to yourself. Try and locate the “mile markers” in your present journey. Are you heading forward? Are you moving at the speed limit?  Keeping your eyes on the road? You’re going to always feel that sense of confusion or detachment if you continue to let your life drive on autopilot.

Your relationships all along the journey are essential to understanding where you are, where you’re going and who you are becoming. To end some of the confusion that may be plaguing your day in and day out – maybe you need to reconnect with the people the matter? What about listening instead of talking? How about some honest feedback, from someone who loves you, about where you’re heading? (Most people can’t give us this valuable help because we usually remain too private about our real selves, our hoods too tightly shut).

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What sort of goals have you set for yourself? As you pass each mile marker, you can tell that you’re heading the right direction if your actions are taking you toward specific goals already laid out. Most of us aren’t specific enough with our goals and that leaves us driving around in the dark or lost in the woods. We don’t know the next step because we never really nailed it down in the first place. Make a list of your goals and chart out the course your life should be taking. Big and very specific goals help you to see the markers along your way and which direction you’re heading.

I hope next week is better. I’m going to check my calendar twice to be certain. What I really hope to accomplish is pay better attention to my larger journey, take back the wheel from the autopilot more often and become accustomed to map reading.

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”

― Seán O’Casey