Feb 3, 2013
It seems that every innovation and new device that jumps out at us from aisles at electronic departments is, yes, wondrous and miraculous (until next year’s Consumer Electronics Show convinces us how outdated and useless they are) but all seem to share a few aspects. Yes, they tend to be smaller than the toys they replace; and, yes, they usually are more expensive than their predecessors. But I am thinking of something else.
New phones, new computers, new bells, new whistles, every i-thing that comes down the pike all tend to isolate us more and more. “Personal” is the common adjective in the descriptions, if not the brands. We can talk faster, do extra things, command more, multi-task… ultimately hunched over, closer and closer to the screen of each new device. At almost every restaurant I visit these days, I see a family of four or five who are all absorbed by their phones, smart or otherwise. They communicate only to place their orders and, perhaps, offer a belch or two. Otherwise, dinner is the screen and whatever.
Curious. We communicate more, but socialize less – ultimately, communicate less in the traditional and, I believe, worthwhile sense.
The “Friends” mania is analogous: similarly confusing and seemingly self-contradictory. Facebook now opens my home page with a question up top: “How are you doing, Rick?” It is relatively obnoxious to me, because I have a sneaking suspicion the question is insincere. If it is Jeff Zuckerberg himself who invites the response, I seriously doubt that he would much care either way how I answered. (For the record, I am tempted to reply, “How am I doing WHAT?”)
And Facebook Friends largely are an odd species to me. People I knew before Facebook was spawned, well, they ARE friends. But I constantly get “friend requests” from people I never heard of, which could be flattering except that I have heard that some people assemble numbers of Friends like Chicago politicians assemble voting rolls: neither acquaintanceship nor even pulses matter. Now there is a company that markets an application that informs us when somebody DE-friends us. Neologisms atop irrelevancies.
Somewhere, someplace, someone is writing a research report on an American culture that has become so desperately lonely that society finds comfort in manufacturing friendships that are immune from human contact; people obsessed with maintaining such artificial interaction; and a form of paranoia that fears the suspension of such counterfeit “relationships.”
Like a king, I may live in a palace so tall, With great riches to call my own.
But I don’t know a thing in this whole wide world That’s worse than being alone.
We are not merely being seduced by the novelty of toys, I think; nor engaging in faux-communication that will pass after a season. Given the chance, contemporary Americans deal with relationships in a new manner that, in fact, suits us just fine: somewhere between wary and disdainful of human contact. The New Normal is the Old Abnormal.
Sooner or later solitude, whether voluntary or forced, will catch up with our souls. We are not meant to fly solo. Before that time comes, our culture will cripple itself and interrupt the dynamic emotional flow that once characterized the American spirit. And eventually we will discover that it is not about the difference between being, say, a social animal and an introvert. Nothing so superficial.
Some time we, as individuals and as a culture, will confront the difference between being alone and being lonely. Even in the midst of multitudes.
Once I stood in the night with my head bowed low, In a darkness as black as the sea.
My heart was afraid and I cried, Oh Lord, don’t hide Your face from me.
The coldest emotion we can ever experience is the sense of loneliness, of no one nearby – no one to understand, no one to listen, no one to care. But to BE alone? That is a state of mind as much as physicality. You can have memories and books and music – things that are prized comforts – but they take you only so far. Then you have family and friends; they can be the most precious , and irreplaceable, blessings imaginable. The only thing better is the knowledge, and the perceived presence, of God by your side.
I learned something about the value of friends some years ago, and I will bring it forward, re-cast to recent events, because the lesson is the same. And it is one I need to remind myself of, every so often; too often. Through tough times, friends will call, friends will write, friends will pray, friends will send cards, friends will visit, friends will even communicate on those new little e- and i-devices. So another friend, a skeptic, once taunted me – “You talk about Jesus all time, how He helps you here, and ministers to you there. But listen to yourself – all your comfort has been coming from friends, not your Jesus!”
And my reply – as all our realizations and replies should be – “That IS Jesus bringing me comfort. My friends are just His messengers.”
There is a place where we may overcome loneliness, a place where no one stands alone. Let us all find it, and all realize it, and all embrace it.
Hold my hand all the way, every hour, every day, From here to the great unknown!
Take my hand, let me stand, Where no one stands alone.
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The poetic lines above are verses from the classic gospel song by Mosie Lister, full of profound meaning, lessons for us all in troubled times; and an emotional tune with majestic chord structures and modulation. Performed here by the Gaither Homecoming Friends – yes, “friends”! The composer is in the audience, introduced at the end of the song.
Click: Where No One Stands Alone