|photo by Amy Brandon|
We are a broken people. The majority of the phone calls we get are from people we don’t know and don’t want to speak to. The majority of the mail we get is from people we don’t know and don’t want to hear from. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that digital interactions with people who check in with us on their own schedules are enough for us, that we don’t need to take the time to cultivate the living, to build non-digital relationships with others who, at times, will interfere with our own busy schedules. After all, we have hundreds of friends available 24/7 at the stroke of a computer key. Few of us , including me, seem to have the capacity any more to be real-life, in-person, on-call friends to one another in these times of digital ascendancy. It’s a lot easier to like a post or type “I love you” or “I’m praying for you” than it is to sit across from another person and let her pain assault you while you drown in your own helplessness. And we wonder why the most vulnerable, the most broken and isolated among us, break in horrific ways we don’t understand. We have neither the time, the patience, nor frankly, the interest, in being the right kind of friend, the saving kind of friend, any more. That is the hard truth. That is not the truth of the Bible we all like to say we follow.
In the midst of the horror and pain of this week, I finished reading Lila by Marilynne Robinson. Lila is a beautiful book. It is art of the kind that redeems humanity. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this blog, I don’t review plots or discuss character development. I hope you’ll read the book for that. But I do want to say that this book spoke to me in a particular way as I was able to identify so completely both with Lila’s logic and with her dysfunction. The one question Lila continually asks her husband, who is a minister, is why do things happen the way they do? Throughout the book, he evades the question until toward the end when he finally says what I discovered a long time ago. Some things just don’t lend themselves to being asked why. There is no fair, there is no deserve, sometimes there is no over-arching logic available to a human brain. You can see where this line of thought could lead to nihilism. Personally I think that is the lazy way out. To keep trying to love, to keep working for peace, to keep hoping, these are the hard ways out. These are the paths of the brave.
No man is an island. I’m pretty sure several famous people stressed this on several occasions over the course of written history, but we seem to do a fine job of forgetting it. I struggle personally with this because I don’t like or need a lot of people. The truth, though, I think, is that most of us don’t need hundreds of friends. We need one friend, one friend who will hear us when we howl and who will be there to absorb that howl and to help us find our way out of it so the howl doesn’t overwhelm us all in the end.