It’s been a dry time here in the mountains of North Carolina—physically for my garden and spiritually for me.
It seems I reach a point in my life where my thoughts—after having been on the mountain top for a while—sort of slide off the side and go into hiibernation.
So, this past week end we took a road-trip to Raleigh where my daughter and son live to touch bases and celebrate my son’s graduation from NC State. It’s almost worth the drive to have dinner with the family at PF Changs and the subsequent stops at Barnes and Nobles and Starbucks for iced coffee.
In the spiritual dimension, we live in a “high place”, where it seems the enemy of our souls roams around looking for people to oppress and disturb. So, when we leave the mountains for even a couple of days, the tension and mental warfare subside and we are not just talking about a change in scenery. Sometimes you are not even aware of the change until you realize that you haven’t had an anxious thought for several hours.
Not that there aren’t other battles to fight in the flatlands—consumerism is like a wild stallion galloping at a break-neck pace across the shopping malls that seem to line every major highway. I wonder what kind of jobs those people have that allow them the “luxury” of being a part of all that spending?
But I digress.
While in a two-story Barnes and Noble bookstore this afternoon, I browsed the poetry section for a Langston Hughes poetry book, and after waiting in line to pay for it, got into another line at the coffee shop to prepare myself for the long drive home. Two people behind me was a mid-sixties woman, coffee mug in hand, talking out loud. At first I thought she must have a cell phone somewhere but I couldn’t locate one after a couple of furtive glances her way. It was almost like she was memorizing something or composing a poetic treatise out loud. The words I caught were kind of conspiracy theory type stuff and part of me wanted to ask her what whe was doing or who she was tuned into or whatever. The other part of me thought that it might just be a thin line between passive and wacky violent and so I kept my distance.
What did I have that she might want—other than a wife and friends to talk to when I feel the need or in the natural course of daily events. I could tell her that Jesus loved her but really didn’t feel a release to enter her world and then quickly leave. After I got my coffee, I sat at a table and watched her for a minute or two and then moved on but not after having thought about all the lonely people in the world and the kinds of things we might be prone to do lacking a normal relationship with someone. People go to public places for a reason—and malls and coffee shops serve as a modern day equivalent to the parks and town squares of times past.
How people get to the point of talking to themselves I don’t know. Maybe for the lady in line it is a defense mechanism—since she feels uncomfortable around people she talks to herself in order to seem crazy and keep the very people she truly needs away from her. But in large public places in big towns, the lonely people are all around—all you have to do is look.
I guess I recognize them because I can imagine being lonely too—but I am not lonely—only quiet and observant on this day before Memorial Day 2007. There are eight million stories in the naked city, the cop show used to proclaim over the credits, and this is one of them. Someboby probably has even written a book about it and the book is on one of the the shelves of this same Barnes and Noble bookstore—only I don’t know where to begin looking for it or am really even sure that I would want to read it if I happened to find it.
On a grand scale I sometimes imagine I have the answer to the world’s problems but it is really the multi-million individual people that need immediate attention that I can’t seem to get past.
In retrospect, I probably should have asked her who she talking with or what she was saying—but being an observer is who I am today.
Maybe next time I will act on the impulse and put my life on the line—if only to say—there is hope and friendship is worth the risk. Maybe next time.
Terry, recently I was chatting online with someone about this very thing… whenever I go back to the US I am struck with how incredible lonely it is. I mean, everyone drives around in their little boxes, goes home to their shut-up little boxes, and if they are in public they talk on their cell phones instead of relating face-to-face with people. You have to pencil in a coffee date with a friend, and only for one hour because then you have to get the kids off to their next activity in the name of “social” time for them… It’s a sad sad place for me! In Latin America we have found the joys of unhindered relationship time; Every evening sitting outside on the sidewalk chatting with neighbors and the people strolling by, or walking to the market and taking two hours because you are stopping to talk, people dropping in to chat whenever(which took some getting used to, plus there is a protocol for that, you have to offer drinks and food and drop whatever you are doing!)… so we would go home to the States and people wouldn’t even have more than an hour power-lunch for us even though they hadn’t seen us in more than a year! Incredibly lonely! It makes me sad for all my friends there and the joys they are missing out on!
I know what you mean about going down the mountain. These mountains are a sheltered little world. Going to Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham, Chapel Hill or some such place is a little like peeking out from under a rock. We must squint. Perhaps that squinting is what prevented you from having what would have undoubtedly been an interesting conversation. Maybe next time you’ll act on that impulse, because when you’re three hours from home, you have all the excuses in the world to initiate such exchanges, and also all the reasons in the world to terminate those exchanges at any time. All you have to say is: “Well bye for now. It’s been interesting, but we gotta go back to Boone now, gotta go back under our rock. But have a nice life…It’s really not so bad you know, because Jesus loves you and he died for you. And you’re gonna live forever with him if you wanna. So it’s not really all about what’s on this side of death anyway. Lighten up and Via con Dios. See ya in heaven if not again at Barnes & Noble.”In other matters…Congratulations! to Joseph for having completed studies at NC State. An awesome accomplishment. An congratulations to you and Sandi for having made it possible. Keep up the good work, and keep on bloggin’C
Feeling lonely in a crowd has to be one of the worst feelings you can experience. Awful. One of the things I see happening in our culture right now is a reaction against the busyness and rat race we live in. I think this explains the abundance of coffee shops and bookstores popping up in the middle of these urban centers. People are beginning to long for a place to go where they have permission to slow down, drink some coffee (or a beer), and have a meaningful conversation. Even some churches are bringing couches and overstuffed chairs into their worship spaces to facilitate the same vibe. I think this is a good thing. America has put such an emphasis on competing in a global market, that we’ve lost our way in terms of community and thought life. The question remains, however, whether or not our ecclesiology can healthily adapt as well.
Our house already has couches, chairs, coffee, food, and no schedule so there is time to be together. 8^)ded
Sounds like a plan to me…is there gas for the grill?
It’s charcoal, but there’s time to let it get whitehot.