Tag Archives: loneliness

reblogged – Clare T Walker (my niece)

Principle 7: Collaboration


Balance prudent self-reliance with healthy, interdependent relationships.

Some time ago, I came across a book called The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century[1](written by two psychiatrists). A quote from the book:

“Being neighborly used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbor means not bothering them.”

I think this anti-social attitude has infected much of the technologically advanced world, not just America. We leave people alone because we think that’s what they want, yet loneliness has become a hallmark complaint of modern men and women. We dare not show our faces on our neighbors’ front porches…

…yet we scrawl updates on the walls of their facebook pages, we tweet until our smart phones are hoarse, we forward emails to all our contacts. It’s paradoxical. We have an explosion of online social networks, endless opportunities to “connect,” but how many of us scroll through our computer screens, feverishly hitting the delete button, just looking for something—anything—from someone we actually know or that we actually want to spend time reading?[2]

It’s good lift up our eyes, away from our screens, and be really physically present to other human beings.

illustration from the front cover of O Come Ye Back to Ireland, painted by Christine Breen

Susan K. Rowland, in her book Make Room for God, discusses at length Sarah Lanier’s[3] comparison of “hot-climate” and “cold-climate” cultures:

“Hot-climate cultures are communal, group-oriented, inclusive and spontaneous. Cold-climate cultures are more individualistic, privacy-oriented and interested in structure and productivity.”

My parents grew up in England—which has elements of both hot- and cold-climate cultures—but cultures definitely collided when she encountered the true hot-climate culture of southern California in the 1960s. She and my dad had just moved to America with their infant daughter (me). After several months of dealing with the apparently certifiably insane population of La Mesa on the odd side of town, they moved into a new place. My mom, expecting the worst, battened down the hatches, unwilling to interact with more of these crazy Americans.

To no avail: one morning there was a knock on the sliding door of the kitchen. In walked her new neighbors with freshly baked goods and coffee. Long story short—these two or three families spent the next five years raising their small children together, and even though they now live across the continent from one another, they are friends to this day.

What does any of this have to do with simplicity?

Living and working in close proximity to other people, and building intentional community with them, simplifies things because you can pool resources of time and energy, tools and materials, emotional strength and physical skills.

“Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood, 1546)

Cocooning with just our nuclear family on the back deck while the front porch remains unused isolates and limits us. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel—you can ask your neighbor if you can borrow his wheel. And, even though we are sturdy, self-reliant Americans, we don’t have to do everything alone in this increasingly cold-climate culture:

  • The Amish and other “plain living” subcultures excel at the principle of collaboration, with their barn-raisings and other community activities.[4] [5]
  • Busy yuppies Niall Williams and Christine Breen experience the beauty of community and collaboration when they move from Manhattan to rural Ireland and work side-by-side with their neighbors on their farm.[6]
  • In The Way (2010, Directed by Emilio Estevez), a man grieves the death of his son, and also honors his son’s memory, by walking the historic “el camino de Santiago” (“the way of St. James) in France and Spain. On the journey he discovers the beauty of community and collaboration.

I’ll finish with a little anecdote from my own neighborhood. A friend who lives nearby was over at my house putting the finishing touches on some electrical work he had very kindly done for me.

As he was leaving, he said, “I think I’ll take my ladder home with me today, because I’ll need it for a project I have to do at my house.”

“Okay,” I said.

Then, after a moment’s thought, I said, “I think that ladder might be mine.”

“Hm,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”

We went to look at the ladder. It had been back and forth between his house and my house so often in recent months that neither of us could remember whose ladder it actually was!

He took it and used it for whatever it was he was working on, and I think it’s in my garage at the moment.

“Any culture emphasizing productivity cannot allow us to spend much time socializing.” (Susan K. Rowland Make Room for God)

[1] The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz (2009).

[2] Social Clear Cutting: Can Our Social Media Behaviors Destroy Our Social Environment?” This is a very good post by author Kristen Lamb. She writes passionately about the need to forge real connections with other people. Her target audience is other authors attempting to construct social platforms to promote their creative work, but her articles and books (We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer) still speak to anyone disillusioned by online social media and searching for rewarding interactions online.

[3] Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures by Sarah Lanier (2000)

[4] Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender (1989)

[6] O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen (1987)


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In 1934, Admiral Richard Byrd was exploring the area near the South Pole. He decided that an advance weather base should be established farther south than the exploration centre, which they called Little America.

The original plan was to have three men at this new weather base, but because the supplies for this number could not be transported before the beginning of the three months of total darkness in midwinter, Byrd decided to man the base alone.

A specially built shack fifteen feet long and eleven feet wide was sunk into the snow. Food, fuel, weather equipment, and a radio were placed in the shack, and the famous explorer settled in for months of solitude. For several weeks after he was left in the underground shack, his weather experiments went well.

He had time to read and listen to gramophone records he had brought along.

On the last day of May, 1934, tragedy struck. The exhaust pipe to the gasoline engine, that he used to generate electricity for his radio, froze, sending poisonous fumes throughout the shack.

Byrd became too weak to lift cans of food and fuel, and he spent hours resting after completing the slightest chore. He was sure he was going to die, and wrote farewell notes to his wife and children.

Outside, the temperature fell to nearly fifty degrees below zero.

At the base with which Byrd made radio contact several times a week, they knew something was wrong, but the solitary explorer would admit nothing. They decided that a rescue party should go out, even though the 125 mile journey through the cold Arctic night was filled with danger.

After several attempts failed, they finally reached Admiral Byrd on August 11.

Admiral Byrd wrote a book about his experience; it was entitled, Alone. In it he vividly describes the torments of loneliness, especially when he was weak with illness. But he also spoke of “an abiding presence,” that sustained him and protected his sanity even in his moments of deepest loneliness.

Loneliness, it seems,  is part of the human condition. A famous Bible scholar, commenting on the first chapters of Genesis, said that “Loneliness is the first thing God declared not good.” When God created Adam and saw that he was lonely, Eve was created so that there would be companionship, a mutual indwelling, a spiritual and physical union.

Jesus said   “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Abide is a wonderful word.  It isn’t used much these days and in many modern translations, it’s been replaced with “remain” or “remain united”.

But the word “abide” basically means a mutual indwelling, or “living together” in such a way that our lives are completely intertwined .

When people live together in this way you cannot think of one without the other.  That is the way it is between God and ourselves.  Christ urges us into that mutual indwelling so that are lives are intertwined with God’s love.

It’s a very special word – that word  “abide”.

Think of that hymn by Henry Francis Lyte that has been such an inspiration to others in both life and  in death.

“Abide with Me”  was composed by the Scottish poet and hymnologist Henry Francis Lyte just before his death in 1847. It was completed on the same day as his last sermon to the congregation in his parish church, “All Saints” in Lower Brixham, Devon.

The emotional impact of the situation of drawing near to death and the occasion of his last words to the congregation is acutely felt in the words of the hymn.

Abide with me; fast fall the eventide:

The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, O Abide with me

—-O| Thou who changest not , abide with me

—-Through clouds and sunshine, Lord, abide with me

—- I  triumph still, if thou abide with me 

—-In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me

as the rain penetrates the tiniest roots of a tree in order in order to rise and to fill the whole tree and to bring forth leaves and fruit.”, as someone has written.

We will find it life giving.  And we could say that it is  a life sentence


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The Boy on the Bus

A young boy was once travelling on a bus.

He sat so close to a woman dressed in a grey suit that everybody assumed he was her son and she his mother, until finally another woman sat down on the same seat with them.

 When the boy put his feet up on the seat and got the other woman’s dress dirty, she turned to the lady in the grey suit and said, “Would you please tell your son to put his feet down because he is getting my dress dirty?”

 The lady in the grey suit pushed the boy away and said, “He’s not my son. I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

 The second woman looked at the young boy sadly for a moment and then started talking with him. She asked him if he were travelling alone.

 “Yes,” he said, “I always travel alone. My mum and dad are both dead and I live with my Auntie Jane. But Auntie Jane thinks that Auntie Mary ought to take her turn in taking care of me too. So whenever she gets tired of me, she sends me to Auntie Mary. I’m going to Auntie Mary’s now.”

 The woman said, “It must be hard travelling alone.”

“Yes,” said the little boy, “it is. But I never get lost.

 Then he said, “sometimes I do get very lonely. So whenever I see someone with a kind face I sit close to them, and pretend that I belong to them and that they belong to me.”

He continued, “I sure hope that Auntie Mary is home when I get there, because it looks like it is going to rain and I don’t like to be outside when it rains.”

 The woman reached over and grabbed the boy, hugged him so tight that it almost hurt and wished for a moment that this little boy who wanted so much to belong could belong to her.

 So whenever I see someone with a kind face I sit close to them, and pretend that I belong to them and that they belong to me.”

 The woman reached over and grabbed the boy, hugged him so tight that it almost hurt

Literally or metaphorically, should we not all try to embrace someone today with the loving kindness and compassion of Jesus Christ?

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