“Do not rely completely on any other human being, however dear. We meet all life’s greatest tests alone.” ~Agnes Macphail
From my very earliest memories, I have craved connection with other people. I have always dreamed of being part of a community or network of people who would give me the sense that there was somewhere I belonged. In particular, I have searched high and low to find a few people who could be that core group of “chosen family” that I could rely on through thick and thin. I have desperately longed for someone with whom to intimately share my life.
I have moments when I think I may have found these things, but it always turns out to be an illusion. I am a difficult person to get to know, and I am a very difficult person to be in close relationship with (or so I’m told). With each disappointment, the longing to belong somewhere grows stronger and the courage to do what is necessary to find or create the kind of community or small core of intimate friends grows smaller.
I realize that much of the problem lies with me. I have been too likely to look in the wrong places to find what I am looking for. I do not have a personality that makes it easy to form the kinds of relationships I long for. I know I am not the person I want to be in order to attract the kinds of friends that I wish to have.
I have some ability to fix some of these things. I am working hard at becoming more the kind of person that I want to be, but it is slow going. I have learned a little bit about how to choose better places to look. Alas, my personality is not something I can change, if all the research I have read has any validity. I am an INFJ, and there’s not much I can do to change that.
But as I’ve been thinking about community lately (a subject that has been quite heavily on my mind for several weeks now), I’m realizing that maybe I am chasing a phantom. Perhaps what I’ve really been chasing all of my life is a way to not have to face all of life’s greatest tests alone. Maybe the kind of supportive community that I’ve always dreamed of doesn’t really exist—at least not in the way I’ve dreamed it.
You’ll note that in the opening quote, Agnes does not say that you should not rely on other people; she says “Do not rely completely on any other human being.” I think that completely is the key work here. I think we do need other people, and my desire to have a larger community in my life to provide support and help is not unrealistic. However, I’m beginning to think that the kind of support and the kind of people that I wanted this community to include may be the very problem.
Perhaps I am expecting too much, and the very existence of that over-expectation is what is keeping me from finding what is right under my nose. Perhaps what I really wanted simply to not feel so isolated and alone. I wanted instead to be fully seen and heard and supported. But “we meet all life’s greatest tests alone.” That’s not to say that we may not have help and support from others. It’s that at the end of the day, we are the only ones that can face whatever test is in front of us.
When my friend Vicki died a few years ago, she had a vast network of people around her that supported her and her family. It was the kind of extended family and community that I’ve always dreamed of having. Friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors all gathered around, bringing food, helping with her kids, taking care of details for her and her husband. She had a devoted husband who was with her every step of the way and a dear friend who was like her other half that loved her and carried her through those last days. Her friend was at her side when she took her last struggling breath. But Vicki was still the only one that took that step from this life to the next, and even with all of the love and support that surrounded her in those last days, she took that step alone. None of them could take it with her.
So perhaps the key for me is to let go of my longing for that deeper community. Perhaps it’s my high expectations and desperation that keep me from even having a shadow of the kind of community that carried her through her last days. Perhaps it is only in accepting that I do walk alone—that we all walk alone in the end—that I will be able to find the kind of community that actually exists in this world.
Maybe, just maybe, the person who I’ve been desperately searching for is me. And maybe letting go of all the rest and finding a way to be truly okay being alone will make me easier to get to know and easier to be around. Maybe it is only the fighting against the isolation and loneliness I feel that’s the problem. Perhaps embracing them will show them to be the keys to a richer life.
Life is full of those kinds of ironies, isn’t it?
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.