*Note: this blog post best read while listening to Mannheim Steamrollers “Earthrise” and “Return to Earth” from their “Yellowstone” album.
In the movie “Wild” (if you have not seen this movie and still desire to, you may way to skip down a few paragraphs, so I don’t ruin it for you) there is a woman who has struggled with many trials in her life. She grew up with an abusive father whom her mother fled from with her kids (her and her brother). Several years later her mother died of cancer when she was only in her early 40’s. This great loss spun her into a web of heroine addiction, numerous adulterous sexual escapades, and ultimately the loss of her marriage when her husband filed for divorce. The result of this…? She decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail 2,650 miles through the deserts, mountains, and forests of California, Oregon, and Washington…alone. She was left alone with her thoughts and many expletives as she trudged the rugged terrain, averting her inner voice telling her to give up, surviving falls, fleeing perverted men, suffering bodily injury, and coming near dehydration. It is a great story of “one woman facing all odds and coming out a stronger person on the other end” as she crossed the Bridge of the Gods on the Washington/Canadian border in this feat of heroic feminine victory.
However, one thing kept running through my mind…the most meaningful part of this story was not her facing all odds and coming out the other end a stronger person…but the most tangible and inspiring moments during her journey were the interactions she had with people along the way. At the beginning of her journey, she was inspired to not give up because she met and a man and his wife who inspired her to keep going. Her toenails were falling off and her energy was being stripped away because she carried a bunch of meaningless and worthless accessories with her, her shoes were way too small, and a man she met who served the hikers on the PCT during the summer season helped her lighten her load by showing her the things she actually needed and the things she didn’t. She talked with many people along the way, and finally she met a small boy and his grandmother along the route who sang her a song his mother wrote about the heartache she was feeling from her deep sense of loss. They left and she dropped to her knees in tears. During this part of the movie you could sense the raw emotion of healing that was taking place in her heart.
As I watched this movie, one thing became glaringly evident – the most impactful and meaningful moments of her journey were not the myriad of hours she spent in her own head alone with her thoughts and emotions (maybe because it’s almost impossible to effectively communicate that through film), they were in the encounters with other people – humans who also faced great difficulty; humans who were walking alongside her on the journey of life; humans who were growing, learning, changing, struggling, celebrating, wrestling, and walking out this thing called “the human experience.”
The most poignant concept to me about her journey was that she realized what it truly means to be human – we are better together.
As a fire dies by separating the logs and sticks from one another, so does the human heart die when separated and compartmentalized from others.
There was a study done in 2006 on the homeless populations of America and in Calcutta. The population of homeless in America were mostly ostracized, untrusting of one another, alone…but the population in Calcutta were bonded into communities on the outskirts of the city. They lived in Homeless cities, shared their lives with each other, shared their food, shared their shelters. They were recorded as having a rate of happiness and satisfaction three times higher than their American counterparts.
I lived in Seattle in 2013-2014 and got to experience this same phenomenon – homeless communities that shared everything from their lives, to their food, to their shelter. These communities, even though moving several times, are still thriving and are the center for many ministries that partner with them.
There is something beautiful and honorable about climbing to the top of a mountain by yourself and sitting at the top and gazing upon the beauty below – however, add a group of friends and family sharing in the awe and wonder of the moment and you have a deeper more impactful mountain top experience. Sharing life with others is the precipice of the human experience.
Let me be clear – I’m not saying you have to be around people all the time. Introverts need their time away from people to energize themselves and – I would argue from experience – extroverts, no matter how much they enjoy being around and being energized by people, still need time to themselves.
What are some good reasons why we need one another?
- Joy – from my experience people laugh and have more fun with others. When people share life together, there is a camaraderie and connection among them that can become inseparable. They say we are more likely to keep photos, no matter where it’s from or of what it is taken, if there are people in the photo. Take a picture in St Peter’s Square, at the Pantheon, or in Yellowstone and you may or may not keep it or even look at it again. However, take a picture of you and your friends at the top of Half Dome or in the Roman Colosseum and you will be more likely to save it, share it, enjoy it, and show your grandkids in 50 years.
- Grief – in my experience in the Church, the best environment to grieve the loss of a loved one, the loss of job, or other occasions of grief, if the person who has a community of friends and family around them and spend time with them walking through grief together tend to grieve more effectively and positively – unlike the woman in “Wild” whose grief led to her a lifestyle of slavery to vices and addictions. The more one in mourning isolates themselves, be it because they are embarrassed, they don’t want to bother other people with their “problems,” they don’t think others will understand, they are untrusting, they “just don’t want to be around anyone right now”, or they “just need space” the more they will feel isolated, ostracized, lonely, and depressed. Living in our own head when we are grieving is the worth way to grieve. While alone time is important, we can get consumed by our own thoughts, temptations, and seduced by any number of coping mechanisms and destructive vices.
- Memories – Genuine memories are made when people walk away from experiences with others…on the ride home we feel joy, satisfaction, and sense “I am loved” “I am not alone” “I have value” “I have purpose.” Again – what picture will we remember?
- Hope – In Church ministry there is a phrase we use for comforting those in great tragedy and mourning – especially in those early moments, for instance, sitting in the hospital with a family who has just disconnected the life-support of their son – this phrase is the “ministry of presence.” Simply being physically and emotionally present is comforting to the brokenhearted. That is the power of human relationship if nothing else.
- Help – Community and relationships help give a pool of knowledge and support, from changing your oil, to filing our taxes, home repairs, dealing with relationship or parenting issues, life struggles, and other life skills. When someone has a positive and strong community around them they are more prone to avoid lifestyle vices like drugs (both legal/prescriptions and illegal/illicit), becoming an alcoholic, or suffering alone with disorders such as depression, bipolar, and anxiety. Studies have also shown that parents (especially single parents) who do not have a strong community of friends and family around them when raising their children are more likely to abuse their kids (ranging from physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally). As they say “It takes a village to raise a child” and today’s research is discovering why. We help one another with the daily things in life. How do I know this…? How many questions do you ask Siri on a daily basis that could ask a friend? It’s even called a “Lifeline” on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. We are each other’s lifeline for knowledge, wisdom, comfort, and help.
Perhaps the reason there is so much unhappiness, depression, anxiety, boredom, and a sense of darkness over the lives of millions of people both here in America and worldwide, is that we have forgotten what it truly means to be human. Many have lost their love and affinity for the outdoors, sitting in awe of the earth and sitting in wonder, feeling small, and taking in it’s beauty, and doing so with friends.
Humans are hardwired for community; to share our very existence with one another. We have romanticized this “one man/woman show” where we beat all odds and accomplish great things at all costs. The problem is, is that most often the cost is friendships and community. What if we started evaluating our lives, not by the amount of dollars to our name or possessions we have, but by the quality of our relationships? What if the things that were most important to us became people. In our society we have made people a commodity and things the object of our affection. Many use relationships as a means to an end to accomplish financial and positional goals, in order to buy things, comforts, and independence. They get to the top and find it’s a very lonely place. What if we loved people and used things, rather than using people and loving things?
What if we grasped what it truly meant to be human? What if we didn’t rise to the top at the cost of relationships, but because of relationships?
Be the change you wish to see in your culture. This may seem a foreign concept to many…show them the way, press on towards joy! We are better together!