“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the
continent, a part of the main.”
This phrase–both troublesome and comforting, yet beautiful for the power
of its straightforward witness of truth–is attributed to John Donne. he
may have been quoting someone else when he penned it and made this
wording permanent, but even if he didn’t get the words from someone else,
the ideas are certainly implicit in Paul’s letters and John’s gospel.
Wherever it originated, this famous line has had an enduring impact on
western civilization–our political philosophies, our theology, our arts,
commerce and culture.
So, what is hard to understand then is this: If we are not islands, why
do we feel so alone? If we are “part of the main,” why are we so often in
a condition of isolation? Why is it that in spite of–or sometimes, more
tragically, because of–our most gut-wrenching efforts to experience a
sense of belonging and to participate in the sharding of camaraderie or
freindship or love, we experience a deep, disturbing alienation? The
sense of aloneness permeates our existence. Sometimes it subtly, almost
imperceptibly crouches in the shadows–sometimes it dominates, ruthlessly
marching like Sherman across every front of our lives.
or more important (and more disturbing), why would any answer to this
question give us little or no consolation? Why does “knowing why” offer
so little relief? Why is it that we were created with a need for
explanations that pales beside our need for belonging? Why are all the
answers–so easy to get, to give, figure out or make up–so unsatisfying,
and our need for intimacy–so hard to give, to find, to share, so
impossible to take–so necessary for a satisfying life?
I cannot answer this. What I do know is that, feel it or not–no man is
an island, we are not alone. My failures, my successes, my strengths and
weaknesses reach beyond me–they affect people around me. Whether or not
I feel close, my life–every life–touches other lives. We are joined in
a responsibility to together make this world a good one for all of us.
Each of us warms the world or chills it inasmuch as we offer or withhold
respect, hospitality, encouragement, love or truth. In that sense we are
all parts of each other’s well-being or sickness, and we affect the
climate that we all share.
But we are also alone. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and none
else can share its joy.” (Proverbs 14:10) We each have some identity that
is separate (and that separates us) from the community. We are
individuals, unique in ourselves. We are responsible for our choices,
capable of amazing creativity, loved by the God who made us, who redeemed
us and wrote our names–not the names given us by others, but the names
given us by our Creator–on a white stone to be given on the other side.
So, let us love one another, enjoy each other’s company, share in the
common work, endure each other’s failures. This will not cure our
aloneness, so let’s not ask that of each other. Let’s learn to not be
afraid of a very necessary aloneness. With others and without them we are
at home. In both their company and our solitude we will meet God.
– Rich Mullins