Alone-ness

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.

♦ weekendswell ♦

For another take on understanding others, see Cover Songs
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Choosing Headlines

A protestant friend recently invited us to a service project.  He briefly mentioned the details then told how he last served there alongside some “Roman Catholics”.  While huddled in preparation these Catholics were praying the rosary to Mary – he went on to say – so he just observed and silently prayed, “to the living God,” repeating this last part twice.

Hmmm.  His story had all the facts, but his headline seemed to be theological correctness rather than, say, how beautiful it is when people of varying faiths unite around a common cause.  Or focusing on the cause itself.

His headline seemed to be theological correctness

A different friend had a big stage-event to share his music and the next day I asked him what it was like.  “It was so hot up there,” was his reply.  But how was the music, I probed, and he replied that it just was so much work to setup instruments on the outdoor stage.  I was hoping to hear what he liked about the experience, but he chose discomfort and work as his headline.

He chose discomfort and work as his headline

Newspapers may have their own reasons for choosing headlines (see this example¹ of a same-day, same-paper rewrite). WSJ-newspaper-annotated

But when it comes to your personal stories, do you realize the headline you’re publishing?

Of course, the majority of our days are spent down in the body of the article.  We can’t always choose the who, what, when and where of our day, but eventually a few subtitles bubble up as themes. Finally we settle on a headline, sometimes only if asked.  If we’re not reflective, we immediately grab onto the most recent thing, or strongest feeling, and print it as our headline.  

Granted, we take relational context into account when we share, and in fairness, my two friends may have assumed our same page-ness when they focused their headlines.

For instance when my bride and I share about our workday, we don’t usually start by saying, “I’m so thankful for my job and overall my co-workers are great,” even though that is our long-term mindset.  We tend to jump right in with the most frustrating thing that happened that day.  But in this familial context we may consider large swaths of days as one body of work, knowing that on the weekend, or on our next vacation, we’ll reflect again together how good the work is.

And that is our chance to reset the headline.

We once again pull ourselves out of the body – with its small paragraphs and many quotations – to summarize the story we are living.  Writing this I am reminded that headline selection is a key role that meditation and prayer can play in our lives:

A few breaths to let go of being in charge and remember Who is.

A few readings from timeless scriptures to see how transient our troubles are.

A few moments to stop talking to the temporary and instead listen to eternity.

How do you set your headline?

♦ weekendswell ♦

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¹Image source: http://www.jantakareporter.com/world/different-story-wall-street-journal/59948/: