Reconnecting and staying connected has always been important to me. Long before Facebook, and even before personal computing and the WWW, I had lists of friends and contacts, not to mention an alumni directory that helped me find college friends when I traveled. Sometimes I would try to squeeze in too many visits, but my pace has slowed over the years. On a family trip last month, we did spend some good time with three extended family members and five sets of friends. Each visit was rewarding and had distinct value—for instance, meeting the fiancée of a dear, longtime friend a month before their wedding. It is enriching and energizing to talk face to face with anyone I care about.
I do long for more/deeper/better friendships. Through the years, some people have played highly significant roles in my life (and/or I in theirs) as we worked together on long-term projects, or because we were there at just the right time for each other. In some cases, lengthy discussions about the scriptures, the church, or serious personal concerns seemed to cement our friendships. My family and I are fulfilled in having maintained some relationship with most of the people in this picture, but where there has been this type of connection, a later sense of increasing distance can be more stark. I can think of another group (from a dozen years prior to the above) in which one person has unilaterally and without explanation rejected the prior relationship, and there are other cold shoulders, as well. Thoughts of that group led to thoughts of another group of eight or nine in which only three have shown any interest in building on the closeness we once had.
A couple of my friends, independently of each other, have confided to me that they value our friendship in part because they have few other friends. I have a similar feeling.¹ I’ve had a couple of “best friends” and have been devoid that relationship “level” for a while now. For various reasons, I have not stayed in any one place too long in recent years. In most cases, it takes years to develop magnetic, deep friendships, whether or not they are of the “best friend” type. If one moves away, not even Herculean efforts can keep the relationship from changing.
It’s been well said that the worst lonely feelings come in the middle of a crowd. (Not everyone will understand that.) I would add the modifier of all sizes to “crowds”: physical proximity with even one other person might suggest, but does not guarantee, connection. When the actual relationship lacks closeness, the appearance of being part of a friendship or “team” is painful. A once-upon-a-time friend once looked at someone else and me and said “You are such a great team,” but we were actually very personally distant. Being a part of an educational or Christian small group while feeling like an island has probably given me more emotional pain than can be imagined by those with more sanguine or phlegmatic personalities. On the other hand, the relational ease and richness of conversation and relationship that sometimes does come in small groups (as in the one shown here) and one-on-one conversations can be incomparably rewarding.
There has been a lot of aloneness in my life . . . yes, a great deal of goodness and relational presence, but also a lot of absence² and a lot of wishing . . . a lot of wondering about connections that were, that might have been, or that might yet be. Having a generally melancholy temperament, I over-think (brood?), and I create.³ I am not a natural smiler, so it might look like I’m unhappy when I’m just thinking deeply, pondering.
It is from these ponderings that the following passage comes. I don’t suppose it’s really a poem; it’s more a piece of structured prose. It is chiastically arranged, and I’ve indented to show the arrangements more clearly. Here, a matched indent level indicates a related pair of passages, and the middle is central within the whole. You might even read it that way, starting from the outer edges and progressing inward. I will resist the urge to provide commentary on the piece. On the other hand, if the chiastic arrangement is curious to you and you want to critique it or ask questions about what I have in mind or the intratextual relationships, please comment! You and I might even enhance a connection….
I don’t like feeling alone. For about a decade, I felt very (and increasingly) lonely, and no one seemed to understand enough to come alongside me.
On the other hand, I have often needed more alone time than I get.
Gene Edwards’s unusual book The Divine Romance paints a verbal tapestry of a pre-creation “time” in which God longed for a counterpart, an “other.” At some point, Edwards imagines, God had a startling realization—that there could be two.
If I am in some sense made in God’s image, perhaps I experience, on some level, whatever God experienced that led Him to create humans. Did He feel aloneness or loneliness? I don’t think it’s quite appropriate to suggest that God “needs” people, but He certainly desires relationship. And I, too, need connection.
James Weldon Johnson’s “Negro” literary classic God’s Trombones purports to quote God: “I’m lonely. I’ll make me a man.”
I tend to be both energized by, and accomplished in, alone time.
Blessedly, I have a wife and son who love me, and they encourage me. Oddly, I still often feel alone.
¹ Grammar note: I initially had “I feel similar” here, and that would have been technically correct. The intransitive linking verb “feel” does not take an adverb, so it was “similar,” not “similarly.” If I had meant to comment on my sensation of touch, i.e., how I feel a countertop surface with my fingertips, comparing that to someone else’s feeling ability, then I would have said, “I feel similarly.” Being technically correct is not always the best choice, so I opted for “I have a similar feeling.” 🙂
² For meditation-provoking posts based on Martin Marty’s book A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart, start here.
³ In my case, these days, creating primarily means writing. Besides blogs, I have mounds of correspondence, some “therapeutic writing” that no one sees, a few poems, and a lot of music. For about 20 years, I wrote songs (a handful of love songs and 100+ Christian songs); later, the musical creativity was directed more into mostly instrumental works, including compositions, transcriptions, and arrangements. I don’t write much music of any kind anymore. My creativity has moved more toward verbal prose, which means blogposts and the 5.5 books I have in print (Amazon Author Page), plus major contributions to 2 more books, and a few materials for teaching scripture.