What exactly does it mean when we say, “Home is where the heart is”?
As social animals we all need and long for meaningful connection with others. In so doing we maintain our sense of well-being. We also have a sentimental attachment to the words from the television series “Cheers” where we long for a place where “Everybody knows your name”. But is name recognition all there is to satisfying intimacy? Is a pub where we really find durable connections? Sometimes maybe it is. Mostly no.
What then is this perennial search for intimacy all about? Is it something that we can fully realize? Or, are we setting ourselves up for failure with unrealistic standards?
I have traveled and lived all over the world. I slowly have come to the conclusion that what I am searching for cannot be fully found in one place or group outside of a primary relationship.
The other evening in a group of friends, all in our seventies, we talked of this common longing for connection. There was a time in all of our lives when we could recall a deep bond of friendships with others. That remembered ‘gold standard’ is seldom replicated. But we continue to search for it anyway. Those days are often way back in the forgotten mists of days gone by.
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. Most bi-cultural people I know never fully feel a part of wherever they go.
Maybe this sense of being disconnected can also be due to my being male. I observe my wife’s close friendship bonds with other women and envy this “female” penchant for closer ties. However, I cannot use my maleness as an excuse for my tenuous connections. As an immigrant of nearly four decades I perpetually feel like an outsider and never a native. In our village you are only a native if your grandparents are buried in the local cemetery.
The fact is there are different levels of community. One of our longstanding friends is currently going through the death of her husband. There is a saying in our village “No person dies alone here“. Evidence of the latter was a rotating group of helpers that delivered meals, helped her lift her husband in and out of bed, and sat with him so that she could get a break from her caretaker role, and packed the local church for his funeral. Why does this not register with me as a durable or deep community bond?
These are the somewhat pessimistic musings of an introvert.
But could there not be another reason why it so difficult to find community? Maybe we set up impossibly high standards for companionship. Also most of us change as we get older and no longer place a high value on running with the crowd. Instead we place a greater premium on solitude.
What I’ve come to realize is that maybe I have been searching for personal relationship satisfaction in all the wrong places.
A solution to loneliness is by us going inward before we venture outward.
So 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.
The keys to real community are in my pocket not with others. It comes to light when I make the choice to see my true person withinmyself and others, appreciate our oneness, and celebrate what I see. This is more compassionate than viewing our world in terms of relationship deficits.
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 and light side. We all walk in each other’s shoes, share each other’s shadow self, and are united in both life and death.