One of the best features of the Christmas season for me is contacting my many out-of-town or seldom-heard from friends and relatives, conveying best wishes. This annual ritual is a reminder that we are all connected.
It is very easy for me, as a writer and reader who loves solitude, who disconnects the telephone at certain times so my wife and I can write, to feel restless and lonely, isolated in my comfortable bubble. As I think of the many single people I know living alone, I often think of the Lennon-McCartney song, "Eleanor Rigby," with its refrain: "Ah, look at all the lonely people."
Why are there so many people who feel alone, unwanted, or useless every day? I think of my elderly neighbor, whose frustration with the limitations of her life at 89 causes her to lash out in anger at the caregiver who's there to help her. If only she could feel a part of the greater whole that surrounds her--in nature, the world of ideas and music, the friends and family who think of her every day, the prayers said for her. She is surrounded by love.
Achieving such a feeling of being loved and connected is not easy. Sometimes it comes naturally, the way prayer does after a dry spell that we must endure before finding a sense of relatedness to God, or, if you prefer, to Life.
I combat feelings of isolation by an awareness of the many people who admire me, think of me, write to me, maybe pray for me--sight unseen. I think of the strangers who read this blog in various countries--or something else I have published: something I have written has interested them, or moved or helped them in some way.
Or I can think of the many thousands of students who have benefited from my classes (and still do) as well as family members, now gone, whose faces and voices I can still hear in my mind. Or I think of the saints since I believe that somehow, in the great mystery of things, I am surrounded by many who wish me well, from this side of the grave or the other. Their memories of me might be more positive than I will ever know. And our connection is real.
So, I tell myself, I am surrounded by good will. I know dozens of people I can call on for help, other than my wife. Moreover, from what I know about biology, I am aware that I live in a interconnected world of supportive relationships. I am a living part of nature, related to the plants and animals, to the stars at night that remind me that millions of others in many other places are seeing the same stars, maybe feeling that they, too, are part of the cosmos.
I am reminded that the Greek word "cosmos" means order, also ornamentation (as in cosmetics), and so the universe or cosmos means the ordered beauty of the reality in which I live and breathe and have my being.
Of course, the media, too, are daily reminders that we are part of a global community. I like to think that love, in the form of caring or compassion, is at work in these contexts: altruism, which is said to exist in our very genes, is real, as in the effort of most of us to make our planet healthier.
If we live in isolation, believing we are inferior to everyone else or superior to them, we are living in the kind of hell depicted by T. S. Eliot ("The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"). The answer: reach out and contact the sick or lonely or depressed neighbor. Write an email to someone who'd appreciate a reminder that they are not forgotten. Or ask for help: it will come.
Those contemplatives in my Catholic tradition (monks, nuns) who are physically apart from public life are linked, as Thomas Merton once wrote, in a "friendly communion of silence." I think of them every day. Richard Rohr, writing in this religious context, writes: "we are already in union with God. . .inside a life larger than us that can't be taken from us." The union of the divine with the human is precisely what is celebrated at Christmas.
As Merton wrote, because we are a part of God, who is in us, "we are already one. But we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we already are."
My first wish for those of you who read this rambling post or other musings of mine is that you will contact me with a comment: use the Comments section or my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Even if I don't hear from you, I know you are there and that you, like me, are part of this living cosmos united in love and with every reason to celebrate Christmas. My second (and primary) wish is that you enjoy a season of true peace that extends into the coming year.