The elephant discovered by a group of blind men, each feeling a different part and being sure of their description, crosses my mind a lot. The first man touches the elephant’s huge leg and convinces the others he has found a strong pillar, the second finds the tail and describes it as a rope, and so on, until they begin arguing about who is correct.
Each of them is right of course, about their part, but wrong in concluding their part is the whole.
It’s easy to relate this to our disagreements about God, but perhaps it also illustrates how blind-spottedly we see each other. I talk to that friend about soccer, this friend about work, the other about his kids. But I never really know the whole of someone’s experience. Even if we are close friends – even if we live in the same room – I didn’t live their childhood, I don’t live inside their thoughts.
Uniqueness: We are all in the river, but the river is never the same twice.
It follows then that no one else truly knows me, and realizing this can make me feel alone.
I remember bonding moments, times we were “all on the same page”, like a close sports team or camp experience, when we may have come together for that experience but didn’t know the guts of how each arrived there or what each returned to. We may have shared a cause, uniting in protest or praise; we were a part of a larger movement and it invigorated our sense of direction. But when it runs its course, when I didn’t get what I fought for – or worse, when I do – what then?
Why is everyone around me moving on with their own causes when I’m still stuck here with mine?
If I’m surrounded by friends but still feel alone, are my friends flawed?
When you think about that part of you that no one understands, how it makes you feel alone, know this: I feel it too.
And so does everyone else.
Which means it’s something we have in common.
Which means we’re not alone.
I had a deep and moving conversation recently with long-term friends about the challenges they have faced caring for a loved one with hidden disabilities. The classroom struggles, what people say and don’t say, having to guide others through this while also guiding yourself: Alone-ness. And all along we have been friends chatting on about life, with no real – REAL – understanding of what it’s like for them to walk forward making decisions without a roadmap.
“Alone-ness” here, if a word at all, is less about how many people hang out with you and more about how many people understand you.
I am thankful that a friendship can mature to the point where we can acknowledge that we are not the solution to each other’s alone-ness. I am not the one who can say to them, “This disability that challenges your loved one, I understand exactly what it’s like.” I will try, and I do well to encourage them to keep looking for those people who can say it, or as close as exists.
But I can surely say, I know what it’s like to feel alone. It’s something we all share.
Connection: The river is never the same twice, but we are all in the river.