Sometimes we help; sometimes we need help. Sometimes we teach; sometimes we are the student. Sometimes we follow; sometimes we lead. But the truly profound thing in each of these examples is that we are always on both sides of the continuum at the same time. The teacher learns as much from her students as she teaches. The leader who best leads remembers what it is like to be led. And when we help others, it makes us more empathic, more generous, more loving and expands our own humanity. We realize we are one. We are a community that best thrives when all work to help each other.
We need each other–our friends, our families, our communities. We would be lost alone. Consider this remarkable video of a seal who turned to a group of boaters for help when it was in dire need. (Be prepared–it’s intense!)
Sometimes we’re the seal; sometimes we’re the people in the boat providing safe harbor. With each other, we are capable of so much more than any of us is alone.
Are you lonely? Does your heart long to be heard and understood? For someone to get you? And for you to really hear someone in return? Are you yearning to share your heart’s stories with someone else?
Loneliness has nothing to do, really, with being alone. In fact, the worst way to be lonely might be when you are with someone else but not feeling connected.
Is there a way to ease our heart’s loneliness?
One possibility is to open yourself up. Share your true thoughts and feelings, not the masks you wear in the world, but your true self. And then be a safe place for someone else to be naked emotionally with you. Scary, yes. But what good is it if you’re not being yourself in your own relationships?
To speak to that loneliness in all of us, take a moment to savor this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver and listen for the world calling you into your place in the family of things.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Something there is in each of us that yearns for home. Sometimes we confuse that yearning with a physical place. We travel back to that place and wonder why it feels different. What has changed? Why doesn’t it still feel like home? Sometimes we confuse that yearning with a particular time, a past perhaps that wasn’t complicated with today’s troubles, and lose ourselves in nostalgia. Sometimes we confuse that yearning with a particular person and, if we lose that person, wonder if we will ever feel at home again.
But what if home is not a particular place in time but a feeling we can take steps to cultivate?
What is it, really, that ache for home? Perhaps it is a longing for a time and place when you felt welcome and that someone cared if you were there and was happy to see you. A longing for community, for fitting in. Life is difficult and we are all vulnerable, but that feeling of home makes the burden lighter somehow. Someone cares.
And, while we can’t travel backwards to any particular place or time when we felt at home, we can take steps right now today and every day from now on to be welcoming to others. The people shouting ‘Norm’ felt just as much a part of the community as Norm did when he walked into the bar in the old sitcom Cheers.
To welcome others and to be welcomed both feel like home. There is as much community in reaching out to others as there is in someone reaching out to you. So consider who may be feeling adrift, in need of a community or a welcoming hand. And then reach out because, when your hands meet, you will both feel a bit more comfortable in this wild unpredictable and often inhospitable world.
Friendships are taking a hit these days. Politics, world views, differing opinions are tearing people apart. What is it that holds people together instead? One thing is an abiding concern for the other person, despite your differences. If you can advocate against the death penalty on behalf of a stranger, couldn’t you bring yourself to see what is good and redeemable inside a former friend? Inside an enemy even? Searching for common ground is hard work, but really the main point of living in community. Isn’t it?