No Man Is An Island
WHAT IT WAS LIKE
I remember so clearly my belief as a young man that the perfect job for me would be that of a forest ranger assigned to a forest lookout tower. Give me a box of books and assign me to a tower in some remote wilderness and I would be just fine for the summer months. No need to see another human being, just me and nature.
My dream job had very little to do with my love of nature and almost everything to do with my distrust of human beings. At that time, and for decades afterwards, I had very little trust in my heart for my fellow man. I had found people to be untrustworthy, selfish to the extreme, uncaring, lacking in compassion, and generally unworthy of my time. Pain had closed my heart and made it practically impossible for me to form a relationship of any sort; isolationism seemed the only logical recourse for me.
I never did get that forest ranger job, opting instead for the life of a classroom teacher, but the desire to be left alone never faded. To the outside world, to my students, to their parents, I was gregarious, jovial, the epitome of a lover of humanity. The distrust never faded, however; I showed the world exactly what I thought they wanted to see, all the while keeping my real self safely hidden so that I would not be hurt. I became the ultimate actor, able to play my scenes with flair and gusto, laughing on the outside and dying on the inside.
I was so terribly wrong all those years. I have found over the past five years that I do need people, much more than I ever wanted to admit. I cannot traverse this path I am on without help from others. I need the warmth and support that comes from friendships and relationships. And a miraculous thing happened once I admitted that fact: I found that by dropping my walls and showing the real me, that there are people who can be trusted, people who can be accepting, people who will love me for who I am and not the actor I tried so hard to be. I have found, in truth, that being me is a good thing, and that being me is enough to be loved.
TO TRUST OR NOT?
I was watching a pro football game a few years back. The running back, who had been an All-Pro the year before, was having a horrible game. Time and time again the play would be called for him to run over right tackle, and time and time again he would be stuffed for losses or no gain. Finally, in the fourth quarter of a tie game, the same call off right tackle came from the coach but this time the running back broke the run for eighty-seven yards and the winning touchdown. He was interviewed after the game and was asked if he was frustrated running into a wall of defenders each time he got the ball and why didn’t he break off the play and cut to the outside? He shook his head and said it was simply a matter of trust in his teammates. They were the ones who helped him make All-Pro the year before and he believed in their ability and knew they would eventually open up a hole for him.
That simple example beautifully illustrates this subject of trust in others. It was a lesson that took me years to learn, but one I will not forget. To trust someone completely is to realize that they have your best interests at heart and would never do something intentionally to cause you harm. For sure this is not true of everyone I meet; the people I trust can be counted on one hand but really, how many true friends does one need?
BREAKING DOWN THOSE WALLS
And how does one go about this transformation? How does one become a trusting human being? In my case it took a conscious decision and daily effort. I had to knock down my protective walls. I had to open my heart and be willing to allow people into my inner sanctum. I had to risk being judged and not being accepted in order to find those who would not judge and would accept me for who I am. By risking rejection I found unconditional love. In other words, I had to be willing to fail in order to achieve what I had been looking for my entire life.
Life does not come with guarantees. Life does not exist without pain and disappointments. In my youth I was willing to live in an emotional desert to avoid that pain and those disappointments. I am no longer willing to live in that manner, and an interesting thing happened during this transformation. By opening myself up to the possibility of pain I in fact found love. A willingness to live life fully allowed me to love life fully. A willingness to love unconditionally allowed me to be loved unconditionally. What a miracle!
CHILDREN TAUGHT ME THOUGH I WAS THE TEACHER
I was thinking the other day about why I love children so much; what is there about teaching kids that has always appealed to me? The answer came to me quickly….kids are inherently trusting creatures. They have not been soured on life yet; they have not experienced enough negativity to build up protective walls. If they are having a bad day you know it immediately; if they are happy they are incapable of hiding that fact. If they love you there is no doubt whatsoever; if they dislike you then nothing you do will change that fact. It’s such a refreshing experience, to be with children daily, watching them go through life without hiding their feelings. Students I had twenty years ago still write to me and speak of their love and respect for me. They saw something in me many years ago that I never knew existed. They instinctively understood that I respected them as human beings and that I had their best interests at heart, and they in turn gave me their respect and love.
The empathy I have shown children in the past is the exact trait that was missing in my dealings with adults. My past is littered with adult relationships lacking empathy; once I was willing to show empathy, compassion, and trust towards adults then I was able to receive it from them in return.
BEATING BACK THE PAST
There are days when old behaviors and thought patterns insert themselves into my consciousness. During those times I cringe at the thought of needing others. The old memories of broken promises and misplaced trust come back to me and I wonder, albeit briefly, whether it is worth the risk. But those moments are few and I can today say without doubt that I do need others. My life has been enriched by the close friendships I have formed and because of those people I have learned to love, and in loving I have found the true purpose of my life.
Today the thought of working at some remote site looking for forest fires is as foreign to me as the thought of touching a hot stove. I have not only found that I need other people in my life; I have also found that I want other people in my life, and that has made all the difference in the world in what seemed an endless quest for happiness. Today, for this once-lost pilgrim, life is good!
2013 William Holland (aka billybuc)