In these extreme times, it is difficult to believe that blasphemy was once a cardinal offense in the public square. It is still the case that certain words spoken can get you in trouble with orthodox religions. In the Internet age, however, you are mere keystrokes away from public utterances that would have once landed you in hot water.
I don’t remember when I first heard the quote from Jean-Paul Sartre, “Hell is other people.” I realize this line from the play No Exit is a small bit of existentialist philosophy and deserves better than to be taken out of context. Still, it has always seemed somewhat blasphemous to me, as I believe we were put on Earth to be in relationship.
On a more practical level, I don’t think it’s true. I cannot imagine how truly miserable our lives would be if lived in isolation.
I walk into a space and all I see are interesting stories: A mother picking out books with her children at the library; a University student seemingly lost in thought on a sidewalk; a truck driver moving over to let me merge; a teacher searching for ways to reach an underachieving student.
We are all miracles, walking miracles. We have overcome astronomical odds to be here, and yet not only are we here, we are involved in each others’ lives. Other people are the context for us. In so many ways, we only know who we are in the reflected images we see of ourselves in others.
The way our lives come to intersect with others against astronomical odds is a wonder. A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated 750 Pure Barre classes with a superstar group of folks. The things that had to occur for each of us to be there was no less than Providential: each from different places, toward different destinations, but together for one moment in time. I could not ask for more.
Let me give you another example, this one from running. (It so often comes back to running!) My first three marathons were the fastest of the ten I have run. All three were done alone, both in training and in the events. Though I would love to run those same times today, I would never trade them for the teammates with whom I surround myself now. Running is a team sport.
Sometimes I am asked a question about myself, or there is a situation in which it is appropriate to discuss my point of view. I quickly see how boring this is, at least for me. I once applied for a job in which I had ten interviews. By the end, I had lost all interest in myself.
Consider: if you are happy with and for others, your happiness is greatly multiplied. To be part of something bigger than yourself is to be bigger.
Jesus said, “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” (Matthew 10:39) We are relational creatures.
Build relationships. Nourish friendships. Wrap yourself in others. Learn to lose yourself for the purpose of finding yourself. In the end, you’ll see that where you end up has the distinct flavor of heaven.