The consummate joke on humans is that we are social animals in need of others to maintain our wellbeing. However, many times we can’t stand being together. That is not just true of the ornery uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. We also struggle with the best of friends who rub us the wrong way from time to time. As a result we live with constant ambivalence about sustaining our human connections.
However, there are other reasons we don’t find satisfaction through deeper human bonds. This includes our peripatetic lives. I have resided all over the world in countries like South Africa, Zambia, USA, and Mexico. Friends have come and gone. Since I am not on Facebook I don’t stay in touch with people from my past. In the case of my immediate family I have brother in South Africa and another in Australia, a son on the West coast and one in the Midwest. These geographic challenges preclude closer family ties. I also left my historic religious roots that brought with them close community bonds. Today my cultural differences keep me at an arms length from my village community where the majority of the citizens were immigrants from Spain over four hundred years ago. Here one is not a local unless one’s grandparents are buried in the village cemetery.
Last evening in a group of friends, all in our seventies, we talked of our common longing for community. There was a time in all of our lives when we could recall deep friendship bonds. That remembered ‘gold standard’ never seems replicable since those days were often way back in our college years. But we searched for that connection anyway. And we continued to be disappointed in our current search. Paradise lost never became paradise regained.
My deepest friendship bonds were in my twenties and thirties where factors like parenting, graduate school, and sporting activities bound my life with that of others. But this entire web of relationships fell apart when I graduated, migrated to the USA, and got divorced.
A few weeks ago one of wife’s friends asked me “Do you have friends in whom you can confide?“ I had to confess that this is not fully found in one person. Maybe this is due to my being male. Kris my wife has no problem forming close bonds of friendship with other women. I envy this “female” capacity to bond. However, I am not inclined to use my maleness as an excuse for my not currently having close ties.
I realize that my lack of deep connection stems from a number of factors. As a child I learned to be self-sufficient. As a male I am less inclined to form deeper emotional bonds. As a peripatetic person with my frequent home relocations in recent years I did not have time to forge deeper relationships. Add to the mix my differing personal and cultural interests and striving for self-awareness to the point where my saga seems to be captured by the phrase always an outsider, never a native.
Instead of the downer prompted by the “no close friends” and “you are an outsider” litany of woe (unadulterated self-pity and ego preoccupation on my part of course), there could be a more obvious solution.
Rather than concluding that I am an “oddball” that finds it difficult to fit in, I sense that the community I seek is not to be found in a community or geographical place. Rather, it is to be discovered through a journey inward, to a home where the heart is.
Maybe I have been searching for satisfaction that purportedly comes from our human connections in the wrong place. The solution is by us going inward before we venture outward.
The key to real community is in my pocket and not with others. It occurs when I make the choice to see the Christ (Buddha, Krishna, Imago Dei) in others, validate it in myself, appreciate our universal oneness, and love what I see in you. This could well be the glue to true human connection.
Go inward. Experience my inner essence and that of others.
I guess that is what “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all about. That is the place of rapprochement, genuine human connection, and the building block of community. It is also a way of seeing myself in them, both the dark as well as the light side. We all walk in each other’s shoes. We are united in both life and death. And through this inner essence we have more in common than external factors like culture and personality that divide us.
Finally, the more I make that inward journey the more I value discourse and contact with people who seek the deeper life. Throughout this memoir I have mentioned such persons. These are my soul mates on life’s journey. They are where I find my deepest interpersonal satisfaction.