Isolation and Connection

There’s this scene in a movie I saw years ago—I believe it was “The Deer Hunter” or “Apocalypse Now”—in which the main character is sitting at the dinner table surrounded by family who’s all going about their business as though everything is normal, and the camera zooms in on his face, so that you can see that he’s a million miles away in his mind. It’s near the end of the movie, and the viewers know he’s just been through the atrocities of war—I think it’s the Vietnam War—but no one else knows what he’s been through. That is how I felt last night surrounded by my friends, who are really just acquaintances. Not that I don’t have friends, but these aren’t really them. They aren’t bad people, and I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I just don’t connect with them. Something about how much younger they are, and maybe their lack of intensity. I’d just gotten finished telling them about my mom dying, and a few of them went on to complain about their mothers. Granted, one of them has a mother who’s an active alcoholic, and I know how challenging it can be to have a real relationship with someone like that, and I don’t know the background of the others’ moms. Also, my mother was special, and our relationship was special. She gave birth to me; she gave me life. She showed me unconditional love. She’s the only one who cared about all of my victories and losses, no matter how big or small. Right now she’d be saying I’m putting her on a pedestal and that everyone does that when someone dies but that we must remember the person was human and fallible, and not a saint. Regardless, my capacity to love her and be loved by her is limitless.

It pissed me off, the way the others complained about their mothers, how my profound words of wisdom fell on deaf ears. I’m being facetious; I felt that my words came out in clichés about the preciousness of time and the value of expression of love with our loved ones. The reality is that experience is the only teacher, and the others can’t know what I’m going through without going through it themselves. No one wants to think about the possibility of their mother dying suddenly, or at all. Death is a taboo subject in our culture in spite of the fact that everyone dies, and everyone has loved ones who will die sooner or later. In a way I felt morally superior by this experience that’s teaching me hard life lessons, that’s put me in this club of which no one wants to become a member. But by definition feeling morally superior to others means I’m not being humble or truly growing spiritually.

The problem I’m encountering is that I want excessive amounts of time alone, yet I want to connect with others on a deeper, more meaningful level, and that just cannot happen without spending time with people. It seems that any time I spend with most people feels wasted, as in the situation last night. If only there were some way to find like-minded individuals who appreciate real conversations about life and death; I can’t bear to hear about the petty ankle-biters of financial insecurity (as if this hasn’t plagued me most of my life) or lack of time in the day (again, story of my life) or how annoying a co-worker is, how frustrating a family member is, how a deadline was missed, a test was failed, some other person failed to come through, a brand new item of clothing was ruined… the stuff of everyday life. It’s just boring. It makes me think of this song by Simon and Garfunkel, a favorite song of my father’s which I grew up listening to, which I believe is about the end of a relationship, and about isolation.

The song is also about all the things that go unsaid. Yet these are the conversations of everyday life. Mom would’ve listened to all the petty problems, and offered solutions. She’d have thought about it and called you later with more solutions. On the other hand, she talked about politics and what’s going on in the world, and she spent time giving back to the community by providing food to those in need. My goal is to get outside of myself and do the same.

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