Growing up, I remember when I first found the musical stylings of Simon and Garfunkel. Their sound, though certainly not new, was fresh to me. It was a nice break from the monotonous pop beats and the uni-themed country lyrics.
I remember one song that resonated deeply with me. A lonely teenager with family issues and self-image issues, I was drawn in to the lyric:
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I must admit, it was these lyrics and a deep devotion to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that gave me any appearance of self-confidence throughout high school. Randian philosophy will have to take a backseat today, though I’m sure as I indulge in this public introspection it will undoubtedly rear its ugly head.
But how many of us are taught from an early age ideas similar to Paul Simon’s lyric? “People will let you down.” “Who needs enemies with friends like these?” Man, we have a depressing view of our fellow man. Men are taught that we do not cry and women are taught to not cry in public. The walls of our individual islands are practically built for us at an early age.
How do these walls affect us as we transition into adulthood? Well, for me, they meant walking away from my faith in God, isolating myself in the fantastical worlds of online gaming, and distancing myself from my family. As, by the grace of God, I found my way back to belief in Him, together we started chiseling away the bulwarks.
Today, He has blessed me with a great wife, eshet chayim, amazing friends, awesome community, honest worship and study and a deep desire for Him. But society still puts barriers between us every day.
How often do I drive by a friend’s house and instinct tells me to pull in the drive and pick him up for a beer? The moment the thought enters my head, I remember all of the societal constraints placed on such spontaneous community, and figure he probably has something better going on anyway. So I go on past and sit at my local Starbucks hoping someone I know will wander by.
Even something that reminds me of someone in my life will cause me to long to be in community with them. I will see a model of a car one of my buddies drives. Anxious and hopeful, like an unashamed child opening a Christmas present, I peek into the window only to see an unfamiliar face with a bewildered expression staring at me. I really should stop sneaking around people’s cars.
I long for real community. Not the “I’ll see you next Sunday morning” community, but the constant presence of loved ones in a life lived in community with God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together: “If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.”
I don’t know what is ahead of me, but whatever comes, I pray I will not face it without community around me. I don’t want to be an island anymore.
Have any of you seen something that reminded you of a dear friend and just had to call them or see them? If you didn’t, what stopped you? And how can we break down these societal barriers so true community can happen?