Thursday, April 28, 2011

We're In This Together


5:25p.m. Starbucks, Uptown Waterloo

Good afternoon. Relationships are on my mind right now so I think I'll take a few minutes and write about that. By relationships I'm referring to all kinds of them: familial, friendly, romantic, spiritual, etc. I may touch on romantic relationships a bit more because, well, I'm a hopeless romantic.

When confronted with friends or family members that are going through a hellish time, some people like to say that "You're going through this for a reason, to learn something." I like to refer to these kind of people as assholes.

The only problem is, while their words can be unhelpful and sound trite, they are often correct. Damn it!

The last several years or so have seen some extremely challenging times for me. I've dealt with health issues as well as strained or failed relationships, etc etc etc.

One of the things I am learning as I get real with - and accept - the different parts of myself, is that I am - we are - indeed made for relationships. I think I've always known this in theory, but now I am finally - finally - getting it.

Perhaps you have seen the 2007 movie Into The Wild. It's a true story based on a college student named Christopher McCandless. In 1990 he rejects a materialistic life, destroys all his credit cards and ID and donates almost all his savings to charity. Then he sets out on a cross-country drive to experience life in the wilderness. He does not tell his parents or his sister where he is going and doesn't contact them during his travels. Along the way he loses his car to a flash flood and he starts hitchhiking. Christopher also changes his name. He ends up kayaking down the Colorado River to Mexico, where he loses his kayak and walks back to America. Fast forward 2 years, yes 2 years, and Christopher, now Alexander, is in Alaska, all alone and forced to hunt to survive.

Through all of this, and this is the key, after 2 years of trying to find himself and the meaning of life all alone, Christopher concludes that true happiness can only be found when shared. Realizing this, Christopher decides to return from the wild to his friends and family. This was not to be, however, as the stream he crossed in the snow has now become wide, deep, and violent due to the thaw. He cannot cross. Christopher returns to his small abandoned bus that serves as his shelter, and by this time is resorting to eating roots and plants since he doesn't know how to dry or smoke meat. He has a book to help him to distinguish edible from inedible, but he confuses similar plants and becomes violently ill as a result. His book informs him that his mistake will cause him "starvation and death". In his final hours, McCandless continues to document his process of self-realization and accepts his fate, as he imagines his family for one last time. He writes a farewell to the world, writes the quote "Happiness is only real when shared" into his journal, and crawls into his sleeping bag to die. Two weeks later, his 66-pound body is found by moose hunters. A month later, his sister returns her brother's ashes by airplane from Alaska to the eastern seaboard in her backpack.

Phew, that's a lot to take in, but fascinating (worth a rental, don't you think? Or worth a read: Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer.)

Sometimes I think we figure that we have to be saints. Or that it's better to be alone, that we have to figure out life on our own. Perhaps we think that we have to be well-adjusted (whatever that means) to be in relationships with others.

Have I left college, left all my family, burned my ID, changed my name and ended up in Alaska eating roots and plants? No.

Have I isolated myself in other ways? Absolutely. Namely in places like the one I'm sitting in right now: a coffee shop. I can't tell you how many countless hours, days, months I have spent sitting in café's. There have been small café's, larger ones, empty ones, packed ones. But there's one common denominator: more than often I've been alone. Now sometimes, even oftentimes I've enjoyed this, as I love to write and read. But there comes a time when it's Enough, with a capital E. Sure, part of it may be my personality - which according to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test people, straddles the border of introvert and extrovert - but there are other, negative reasons. One of them is perhaps that I'm trying to find that "Aha!" moment when I figure something big out about life. Another reason may be, even if subconsciously, that I believe I deserve to be alone for some reason.

My point is this. I am learning that Christopher was absolutely right, that happiness is only real when shared, or if you like, life is best when shared. It's OK to need! For some reason some of us think that "need" is a weakness. But it's natural to need other people! This is something I should post on my bathroom mirror so that I'll see it every morning. There are things in relationships that we can't get when we're being a hermit. Love from others, conversation, lessons they've learned, touch (well, I guess you can experience that last one, but God kills a kitten everytime you do.) Another important thing is that we learn more about ourselves when we're in relationship with others. Our own self-perception can at times be skewed and we need others in our lives to remind us of who we truly are.

I am blessed today to be opening up and being in relationship. I have great friends, family, a spiritual community as well.

Relationships are also healing. Is there anything better in the world than laying beside the woman/man you truly love on a rainy afternoon and just gently stroking their arm or playing with their hair?

I don't have to be alone anymore. You don't have to be alone anymore. We deserve to be loved by others. It's time to open up.