There comes a time in every life when the road narrows, when unexpected objects come tumbling across the way and we stumble. These are the times when the values one clings to are of little help in the cold nights and an uncertain future beckons with a ghostly hand. Whether it be ideological moorings coming undone, friendships lost or changed, commitments that once were solid being washed away or declarations of love turning out to be exhibited in ways that are anything but; the slow spinning depths of despondency call out and the macabre voice echoing “we all die alone” seems more clear than usual. If we truly live, if we truly give of ourselves to a world that is at once both capable of majestic imaginings and deeds of divinity, but also often asleep to the inner reality of spiritual magnificence, we will at one time or another be disappointed, adrift and uncertain. Relationships come and go, connections fade and change. Who we once were is cast upon a mirror and looks upon a stranger.
In all the talk of positive thinking, putting one’s focus on the now and dwelling in the wholeness of spiritual identity, there should never be forgotten the reality of a life lived hard and scraped up. It is not that there exists a yin to your yang or any other duality religions historically dwell upon, putting up for us a confusing and distorted world where god creates the devil and we are but chess pieces in a cosmic game of one-upmanship. No, as in genetics, there is a double helix in life where the “good” is inextricably connected to the “bad” in an infinite spiral of connections where one is at times indistinguishable from the other except where context makes it so. All connections will have their share of each, all experiences will have potential for both, determined often by things outside of our control, whether it be another person’s history, social influences or the inner workings of our minds which we have yet to fathom. Ignoring one for the other is a disservice to the multiplicity of our lives and the near-infinite variety of the narratives we can create, where the homeless person knows more about living life than a rich person and where a starving child in India knows more about joy than the protuberant middle class of the United States.
This is not to say that there is any inherent superiority to be found in lack, but that we are all so much more than lack or plenty. In those moments of uncertainty, when being alone is more than an observation, it is a feeling of such depth felt even in the midst of a crowd, there is truth to be found in the acknowledgement of who we are. We are not separate individuals possessed of a transcendent self only tangentially connected to the body with which we interact with the world. We are not Descartes’s res cogitans separated from res extensa, nor a disembodied soul only currently by happenstance flitting around in the depths of some gland or cell or biological structure. There is no “I” without a “we,” no self without community. Even in the depths of loneliness the voices of a thousand experiences echo in our psyche and show forth in our mannerisms, colloquialisms and ideas. From the moment we gazed into the face of our mothers and fathers, to the base interactions of discipline and the realization that our parents or caregivers were not merely extensions of ourselves, to playground antics, school curricula, childhood and teenage friendships and romances, we are always and forever not a single boat on a sea of life but a fleet of soaring mastheads and billowing sails.
At times we may feel a union with one in particular, a narrative of such strength that it flits out ahead of the others, but at no point do the rest go away. They remain in those moments of identity confusion, in those times of feeling disconnected from oneself, in every new situation bringing about a facet of ourselves we never knew existed.
In recognizing the existence of the self-in-plurality feelings of being alone take their rightful place, as momentary illusions predicated upon a notion of self as individual rather than individuated. This does not ignore that narrowed road or the times of stumbling, when things feel as if coming undone, but it does put them in perspective. We are so much more than any one idea, one experience or one relationship. Dwelling in that truth lets us rise, not above, but within the reality of our lives.
© David Teachout