The Art of Being Alone

Everyone has a theme. Listen to a pastor long enough, and you'll hear it a hundred times. Read every blog post I've ever written, and you'll start wondering (as I do sometimes) if I ever write anything that can be appropriately designated "new." Read all about what motivates Dickens's characters, and you will eventually discover the motivations of Dickens himself. Generally, the things that we cannot stop talking about are the things that we ourselves struggle with the most.

If you're not sure what your weaknesses are, here's an easy way to find out: turn off every piece of communications technology that you possess and find a completely isolated place to spend time in relative stillness with nothing more than a journal and maybe a Bible (or a particularly meaningful book - I might bring along Chesterton's Orthodoxy, for instance). Then stay there for, oh, five hours? Longer, if you can manage it. Usually, if you're not afraid of doing some honest self-inquiry, you'll begin to face all the things that you've been dodging because you haven't had time for them.

Right now, I'm on top of a mountain somewhere in the sticks of eastern Alabama. It's not that far from civilization, but far enough that I don't feel like driving to the nearest Starbucks (the shortest route is 21 miles) to pretend that I'm having human interaction while my host, Leah, is at work. In addition to being apart from people, I also feel out of step with time: Alabama is on Central time, but I'm barely a mile from the Georgia/Alabama line which also marks the time transition. Is it 7:51 right now or is it 6:51? It's like the rest of the world is moving past me in perfect synchronicity, but I am standing off to the side, as if I were a pedestrian walking (illegally) along an interstate. All the disjointedness makes me feel isolated. It's one of those exhilarating moments where I get to choose between going sane or going crazy, and it's kind of fun (no Wilson yet, but it's just a matter of time).

Anyway, one of the things that I have realized during the past few lazy days is that I am in a molasses swamp of purposelessness. This is not really a surprise - such discoveries rarely deserve to be called true epiphanies - because if you read any of what I have written over the past few months, (I think) it frequently deals with living in such a way as to accomplish something meaningful. It's not because I'm particularly successful at living that way, but rather that I need more help than most people and so I have to thought vomit a lot to figure out where I'm going right or where I'm going wrong.

One of my favorite high school teachers, Mrs. Myers, once said that some of the best teachers are the ones who have struggled to grasp the material because they know all of the places where a student could get tripped up. They have traveled the same road, seen the same sights, and gotten sidetracked at the same places. As such, they have authority to guide another through that stretch of learning. It doesn't make the struggle any less painful or difficult for the individual who had to undergo the process, but it does redeem the struggle because that person has won the ability to help others over the snags.

We don't always get things right. In fact, I would hazard a guess that 87% of the time, we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off. But the beauty that arises out of the pain is that our suffering can, with time, become our message. Maybe Douglas Adams was right when he commented on the singular stupidity of humans who can learn from others and choose not to, but there will always be a few people who are listening. And therein lies the redemption - therein lies the hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment