Neil Diamond sings a song…
With the phrase: “I’ll be what I am. Solitary man.” In the song he laments found, and lost, love. Eventually, getting through all the heartbreak of lost opportunity and being alone.
As introverts we often struggle with the overwhelming sensation of crowds, we are often as fearfully punished when we retreat into isolation thinking it is best for us. When I am pressed by the numbers, I can easily take a few moments away and refresh myself…
Even when I’m with the people I want to be with!
This past week of enjoying various Thanksgiving moments with my family, my moment of refreshment was simply stepping out to feed the dogs and stand in the dark, stare at the stars, and wrap myself in the quiet. Or, step outside and simply “collect” myself… Or, take a quick drive and handle some of the needs of the day.
Born in the late 1500’s, a man called John Donne was harassed by misfortune, bad choices, and living in a time of strange reactions to what we accept as normal in today’s world. A cleric, ex-con, writer, father of 12… He lived in a time period of martyrdom of many who were, and supported, Catholics – even his own brother. As life progresses, he writes many books that were often called Meditations with a sequence number. We know many of his one-liners, and several of them are popularly used.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” ~Meditation #17 By John Donne From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623), XVII
From this one excerpt we find several very popular statements combined: “No man is an island”, “any man’s death diminishes me” and “whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
Take the first one and think about it. “No man is an island”… As he continues to expound his thought we find that every man is a piece of the continent. The continent is less of itself as every man separates himself from the whole. The island of man gets washed into the sea and dissolves into something much less and secure than the whole it once was.
A person who years for solitary existence never sees what they become, but those who watch them slowly ebb away can only wish the solitary person will come back to the whole.
A solitary existence is not good. Just ask anyone who has been confined to solitary cell life in prison! There are many articles that describe the psychosis that ensue from those shut away. Consider this study from 1951…
“…but in 1951 researchers at McGill University paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation. They could leave to use the bathroom, but that’s all. They wore goggles and earphones to limit their sense of sight and hearing, and gloves to limit their sense of touch. The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations.” ~Read PBS Report Here
Of course, prisons use solitary confinement for many reasons, from protecting the inmate from the prison population, and probably just as punishment. The same article reports those with any kind of mental illness, or youthful brains still growing, suffer the most.
Though it is in my heart to live a life far from the jingle jangle of the world around me, I also know that it’s not good to drop into isolation. I need people. I need family. Without them I would be washed away and lost in the deep ocean of life – perhaps ending in a place I could never return from.
What’s the biggest isolation? We all deal with it sooner or later.
Just this morning, my sister-in-law deals with the loss of family. Her younger sister has been declared dead and kept alive only by machines. Cancer, surgeries, and other diseases haunted her body for a long time. As they prepare to take her off the machines, my sister-in-law could not stand her drifting off from this life by herself – so she stayed with her as the doctors and nurses finished up all the tasks. I’m on speaker phone on her sisters pillow as she drifts off into eternity. Alone to meet God, but not totally alone because some cared enough to be with her during this final voyage.
This is probably the saddest part of isolation. To deal with death and have no one else there to care. I’m glad I was there, even if only connected by a digital cord.
My better thought today is that I need healthy doses of people, and someone who will be there for me during my darkest trial. No… I’m not anywhere near this point, and while I can, I need to feel a modicum of control on how much, when, and what will it cost me – either to join or disconnect…from people, from family.
There are prices to be paid for both…