Sloane, my 19-month-old granddaughter, just learned a new word: “together.”
She wants Mommy and I to run, walk, and eat together with her. So we do, and that is an adorable way to pass an afternoon.
She is basking in “together,” but it won’t always be that way. Sometimes we have to stand alone, especially in the face of adversity. I will never forget when I descended into the dark night of the soul: I felt small, terrified, and alone.
The months shivering in the lonely, dank darkness of my soul turned into years. But one day I noticed that even there, even when I thought I was truly secluded in hell, there were others all around me sharing similar experiences. I did not know them by name, and I hadn’t met them, but I could feel and share their fear, pain, and especially their company.
Now, as I have made peace with the dark night, visiting hours are anytime. I can drop in, hug, or simply flow energetic love to those still in the midst of the wrestling match with their darker sides. We are together. I provide company and support for them both in timeless, spaceless connections as our hearts beat together.
The buddy system.
I recall the first time I went to camp. When we swam, we were to have a buddy. At any point the young life guards would blow a brisk whistle and we were to grab our buddies hand, holding it above the water to indicate that we were keeping each other in our attention for the safety of all.
The purpose of alone.
Imagining ourselves alone is useful; it encourages us to stand on our own two feet, to ride without training wheels and to embrace the hallmark of maturity: responsibility. Growing into our best self entails stepping out of anonymity, from faceless victimhood into our own power.
It’s scary to reach deeply into aloneness, but necessary if possible before we start a “real” job, have a family of our own, or begin the bumpy road of adulthood. But if not before, afterward is fine too.
The foundation of together.
Only as our ability to be separate grows do the virtues of togetherness really shine. Individuation is part of our job here, but intimacy, the often neglected part, is the other. Borders and boundaries appear so real to us, but they are not, nor are rigid points of view anything but watery, flowing to us from the common watershed of humanity and back again.
Certainly we need to build ourselves into something unique and original, but even during peak construction at least several times a day we must pause, and discover that all we have built is simply for the joy of building a statue of ourselves. No matter how long we have been toiling in our ant-like devotion to structure and form, it won’t represent who we really are.
We only discover who we really are together. Sloane’s red mane makes it look a bit like her head is on fire and it is—as she forms words, expresses herself with the ways she speaks, plays and feels the world from her unique location. At at the very same time, round the block, across town, in Nebraska, Delhi, and Reykjavik there are co-creators roughly the same shape and size as her—each with a mole here or a smile there that she shares.
She has to be different, but her unique incarnation is built upon sameness, a foundation that young and old, fat and thin, white and black, and rich and poor share. We are always much more similar than we are separate. And the forgetting of that is a torturous moment that leads to indifference, abuse, and flowers in the desert.
But together is where our strength is. That is where our harmony resides—where we never feel alone and can sit by the fire of a friend or be fed gently by a stranger just for the fun of it, or roll around discovering how our heartbeats, desires, joys, and sorrows are celebrations of togetherness.
Let’s do it together shall we? Let’s share our successes and failures with each other in equal measure. Let’s let the socialist nature of emotional waves raise us and drop us together. Let’s wink at each other across a restaurant, the senate isle, or arbitrary country lines acknowledging that we are one: that our pious points of view, religions, and differences are just the punch line of a joke which we can share as our mirth has no boundaries. We are put just the right distances from each other to amuse ourselves, each other, and to be muses tempting the aspects of us out of our depths and into the light together.
Being together means that more people would be holding each other’s hand, and emotional ride sharing would rule the land.
My wife was in a horrible funk years ago, and at my urging she left me alone with our two kids and hit the road selling my new book. She would drive to a small Wisconsin town and approach small business owners inviting them to listen to a three minute “presentation” about my first book.
Each afternoon or evening she would arrive home excited, lit up, and fulfilled having sold 20 books. Meeting, dancing, and playing with these people lifted her out of depression, being with the kids day after day was the blessing I needed. A year-and-a-half later she was happy, healthy, and perky. I was a hands on dad and many hundreds of people were reading my book.
We belong together.
On the way home from the hospital after the birth of my daughter, I turned on my car’s tape player. I listened as Rikki Lee Jones sang “We Belong Together.” Anytime I feel a bit lonely, need a good cry, or wish to enjoy all that life has to offer, I just listen to that song. It marks an important change in my life, a deepening experience of together that made Sloane possible and life endlessly sweet.
Author: Jerry Stocking
Editor: Travis May