Alone . . .

Today I passed you on the road.  Our eyes didn’t meet through the tint, but I caught the outline of your face as you whisked by.   What thoughts were you thinking in your shiny new car?  Are you a real person like me, blood and bone, or only an actor in a Truman-type world—a  prop for the life I think I’m living?  Did you go home to your cozy suburban two-story where laundry and dirty dishes await?  Just like me?  I wonder if you care about me.  This “other” that shares your space, approximates your life, almost touching but not.

My house is on a street with about twenty-five others.  Every one has a sycamore out front and a dog in the back.  My house is in a neighborhood with about two hundred others, in a city of many more, street upon street, warp and woof.  We are many but alone.  We are community but not communal, living in isolated bubbles, protected from anything real and vital.  We share common roads but no common history.

We shop at the same markets and buy the same goods.  Our flesh glides by each other granting slight neighborly smiles, but distance is maintained by inches.  A force keeps us apart, repelled like same ends of a magnet.  How can we be so many, so close, yet so alone?

Once in awhile real contact is made—a brief moment of connection, a fire flicker.  But more often than not the circle closes in, the fire extinguishes, and we go our own ways.  But what is the value of our own ways if we live our days in Solomon moments, meaningless steps on a treadmill, caring less and less about those around us and more and more about our protected space.

A neighbor almost died last year.  I didn’t know.  She had alienated us over the years with unkind words and tall fences.  When I heard, we had a talk.  I took her some homemade bread.  Another neighbor tried to commit suicide.  I didn’t know.  I heard through the rumor mill months after the fact.  She still doesn’t know that I know.

We use city water that’s pumped into our homes—a shared resource.  But we seem to suck up our own private wells of comfort in times of suffering.  I wonder if it’s enough?

In my house, we have a thriving ant community.  They mysteriously appear from nowhere to plague me with their sheer numbers.  I spray and kill, yet their presence never seems diminished.  What’s strange about these ants is that they carry off their dead.  What do they do with fragments of bodies?

Sometimes I think they must be cannibals, and in taking home fallen brothers slathered in lemon fresh cleaner, they guarantee a feast for the folks who have kept the home fires burning.  Other times, I wonder if with their strong sense of colony and community they take their dead home to honor brave fallen foragers complete with little markers, tears, and eulogies.  Do they feel the loss of one as the loss of all?

In faraway places, there are tribal communities whose lives are interconnected because of their dependence on one another for life itself.  Their survival depends on community.  They live and move together and share a common story passed down to wee ones.  I wonder if our wealth and technological advances are such an improvement to their quality of life.  We might have fuller bellies but emptier hearts.

It’s not that they are the noble savages and we should wear loincloths and adopt all their ways.  They have other deep dark needs, but their lifestyle imposed upon them by geography and physical poverty has put them in a position of needing one another. Even with our bank accounts and cars and houses, we need one another, too.  Just as badly.  But in our affluence, we have lost that critical sense of need.  There are just too many fences.

Today I passed you in the aisle.  Our eyes didn’t meet.  You glanced beyond and through me, intent on something else.  Are you a real Christian like me, or merely a prop in this body-life I think I’m experiencing?  I wonder if you care about me—this “other” that shares your pew, shares your worship, shares a ritualistic hug, almost touching but not.  Are you afraid of knowing who I really am?  Or are you afraid of being known?

We are called brothers and sisters, family.  But it feels like there’s been a divorce.  We walk as aliens—not only as aliens in this world, but also as aliens in Christ’s church.  We are community without communion.  We worship in isolated bubbles, protected from real and vital fellowship.  We share a common history but no common roads.  We are many but we walk alone.  As it is in the neighborhood, so it is in the church.  We are alone in a crowd.

People need people.  There is a sickness in isolation that infects the mind, the body, and the spirit.  There is a weakness, a degeneration, in self-centered individualism.    If we have no vital connection to the church, how can we grow in strength of faith and character?  How can we embrace the joy that comes with a sense of belonging?  If we have no genuine connection to our community how can we love our neighbor as we love ourselves?  How can we earn the right to offer them life in Christ except in desperate kamikaze runs that put “spiritual” notches on our belts?

If we continue, out of fear, to build more fences instead of tearing down old ones, if we do not risk rejection by expanding the borders of our lives, we will continue to walk in longing and loss.  Alone.

About apronheadlilly

wife and mother, musician, composer / poet, teacher, and observer of the world, flawed Christ-follower
This entry was posted in Christian, Faith, Photography, Thoughts, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Alone . . .

  1. susansplace says:

    What a beautiful post. Funny coincidence that I just posted and my theme was “You’ll Never Walk Alone”…Your words are thought-provoking and the photography is beautiful! Looks a little like Camelback, in Scottsdale, AZ.

    • Interesting. I just saw the title of your post come up and thought the same thing. 🙂 Haven’t had a chance to read yet. Vasquez Rocks is in CA–think San Andreas Faultline!

  2. Beautiful post! One of my favorites by you… I guess maybe because I ponder those same questions all the time!

  3. Dor says:

    Lilly, this post is inspirational and so thought provoking and true. I believe most of the problems today are due to anonymity. We are each better people when we are legitimized and acknowledged by others. We accomplish more in numbers than when we climb alone. There are times we need solitude for reflection, but modern life breeds isolation and fear. Your photos so beautifully illustrate your message.

    • Here in CA, with all our busy lives, our fenced yards, and our wariness of strangers, it is stronger; but even in Georgia where I lived–without fences–there was a hospitality that masked closeness. But then you could only come so close. Isolation is like a disease. When we have true relationhips that feed the soul, people you can count on, there is such a feeling of safety. I have had that at times, and when it is gone by decision or distance, it is like grieving over a death. I am grieving the “death” of a friendship.

  4. reinkat says:

    This is one of my favorite all-time posts. It is so very true. I have heard it before, but none have said it so eloquently and directly.

  5. danitacahill says:

    Beautiful, Lilly. Poetic and thought provoking.

  6. ktlee says:

    Really great post. I feel this exact way in my life a lot, and I feel the chasm between people growing by the day with things that are made out to connect us, i.e Facebook. Our society is losing afternoons of sitting on porches, chatting with neighbors (face to face) and genuinely getting to know one another. How sad!

    • I think with so many techy ways to connect, we have higher expectations as to what that “connection” should bring us in the way of real communication. And we consistently are disappointed.

      FB was supposedly a way for our far flung family to stay in touch, but not everyone is on as much as some, and then the games are a touchpoint, but yet nothing really. It feels like connection, but is not. It’s fun to a point but the relationship quotient is low. When we only expected a call every so often or a card on our birthday, that was what we expected and had little hope for more than that. Now we have daily access, but it is often empty.

      At the same time, sometimes you make a cool connection in a penpal sort of way with perfect strangers! It’s an interesting time we live in.

    • Which doesn’t address the lack of closeness with those we are elbow to elbow with. There is fear that estranges and also overcommitted lives.

      On Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 7:47 PM, Lilly Green wrote:

      > I think with so many techy ways to connect, we have higher expectations as > to what that “connection” should bring us in the way of real > communication. And we consistently are disappointed. > > FB was supposedly a way for our far flung family to stay in touch, but not > everyone is on as much as some, and then the games are a touchpoint, but > yet nothing really. It feels like connection, but is not. It’s fun to a > point but the relationship quotient is low. When we only expected a call > every so often or a card on our birthday, that was what we expected and had > little hope for more than that. Now we have daily access, but it is often > empty. > > At the same time, sometimes you make a cool connection in a penpal sort of > way with perfect strangers! It’s an interesting time we live in. >

  7. Degi says:

    You described life in the west beautifully! (Degi)

  8. gingerbreadcafe says:

    A really great post, I feel this way about modern life. People don’t really connect anymore – we communicating all the time but alone in our 4 walls. The other day a lady came into my store she seemed confused so I asked her if she needed anything. She started to cry and said her son had been killed in the army and she needed an outfit for the funeral, with a couple of other assistants, we helped her. I was called away but one of the girls said she cried when she had her outfit on, so I saw her before she left and said that I had been told she was pleased with her outfit. She said to me she just didn’t want her son to be ashamed I said he never would be. It totally broke my heart. Be nice to people you never know their back story!

    • Oh, wow! Once I was driving by a grocery store, and right out front, sitting near the wall was a girl with the uniform on. SHe was weeping, and I fel that God-nudge to stop and ask her what was wrong. But pride and busyness won. I have thought of that girl over the years and prayed for her. There is nothing more important than being real and available for people.

  9. Reblogged this on A p r o n h e a d — Lilly and commented:

    *********A recycled post.

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