“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”
I was raised in a relatively small town in the United States. Everything that surrounded me, as I look back on it now, was overwhelmingly homogeneous: skin color, religion, economic status. I existed in a world that spun on an axis of its own making. There was little hardship of a physical nature. Yet all pain is relative, and even as I had so much to pacify my physical needs, I had periods in which I entered into what St. Exupery termed a “secret land”: “It is such a secret land, the land of tears.” It has always resonated with me that St. Exupery would refer to it as such as I cannot think of a more accurate way to describe it. Pain seems a solitary journey. It draws out the parts of our beings that are drenched in aloneness.
So much of my life has been made up of trying to bridge the gap between myself and others. At moments, it seems that the vast majority of the time I have been unsuccessful at this– failed relationships, the inability to find common ground, to feel understood; the difficulty in allowing the deepest portions of who I am to be seen and experienced by others.
When my plane landed at the Incheon airport in South Korea I felt engulfed in aloneness. This was to be my home for a significant period of time, but it felt nothing like home. My skin, my hair, my language—everything about me screamed out to strangers that I was other. Finding myself alone one cold, December evening in a remote part of the country I remember looking up into the night sky at the stars scattered above me. I felt distinctly alone, small, insignificant. It was the same feeling that I had experienced sitting in the window of my apartment, watching the swirl of activity below me, the endless lights that stretched out to the limits of the city. My confusions, my questions, my silent desperation—it all seemed trapped within the boundaries of aloneness I had created for myself.
Then the kindness of strangers. Communication through short sentences and hand gestures; the afternoon that I met a beautiful young mother in a hotel parking lot and had my adopted daughter placed in my arms for the first time. “Please take good care of her.” A Buddhist monk who smiled, offering me tea. “Miguk-saram.” Sitting in silence in a cold, remote temple and accepting the fact that I was one; one of many, but connected to others in ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend. Our “secret lands,” our tears, our aloneness are common denominators. We are all alone, but we are all a part of a greater whole.
I believe that we were put on this earth to love and be loved. Kindness is a balm, a ministration to nameless wounds. If difference makes up part of the equation of the earth’s population, sameness fills in the rest. As the great scientist Carl Sagan has reminded us, we are small in the grand scope of space and time. Whatever it is that we are doing here on this pale blue dot, we should be experiencing it together through love and compassion. Love transforms. Love heals. It makes the solitary journey through “secret lands” bearable. This I believe.
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