“No man is an island.” I have heard these words since I was a child and learned where they came from when I was in eighth grade. For most of my life, these words simply constituted a phrase that stayed fixed in my mind with so many other words and phrases. However, as I have entered middle age, battling myself and my teenagers, these words have lodged in my heart and compel all of my actions.
Everywhere I go I observe the value of connections and to be connected in this electronic age. The proliferation of cell phones, internet access, and pagers keep me connected 24/7. On a recent trip to West Palm Beach to visit my parents during a four-hour lay over in Atlanta, I observed countless numbers of travelers madly dialing their cell phones and avidly talking so loud that it was easy to overhear their office gossip, their travel tales of woe, and their family plans for the weekend. I heard it all, in several languages. My teenagers have mastered the art of instant messaging and are able to engage as many as ten friends at a time in stimulating conversations such as What’s up? Nuthin much! n U.
A need, such a need for humans to stay connected, yet so much sadness, so much isolation and disconnection. The connections that I seek can not be found in the busy chatter of digital space. These connections do not satisfy my soul, nor do they tie me, bind me, limit me or define me. This summer my family and I participated in my husband’s family reunion. We spent four days in northern Minnesota at a resort with no digital connections, only those of the human kind. We told stories, played games, fished on the docks and enjoyed the leisure of a pontoon ride on the river. We reminisced, sat at elegant family dinners, and even discussed political views. As at the airport, the conversation never stopped, but what a difference! The faces at the reunion were relaxed, peaceful, and playful. They were comfortable being bound together by shared memories and exhilarated in the making of new ones.
In the aftermath of a gut wrenching talk with my adopted son about being ripped from his cultural heritage and stripped of his language, I understood the meaning of John Donne’s words and difference between the conversations at the airport and the family reunion. Like my fellow humans, I long for, ache for, self-knowledge: who I am and where I come from and why I am where I am. Uncovering myself compels me to move forward in life, but this forward movement is slowed or stopped if on this journey I do not feel the company of family, friends, ancestors, and the divine.
“No man is an island.” I know that I am intricately linked and in these connections I have found my meaning and my reason to continue to move forward.
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