“To walk alone is possible, but the good walker knows that the great trip is life and it requires companions.”
– Dom Helder Camara
If you’re my Facebook friend, you have probably seen this quote pop up a couple times in the last month. I first saw it as a fellow Seminarian’s status, and immediately stole it because there was power under those words that hit me like a ton of bricks. Since then, it’s been nagging at me, tugging at my heart, and I knew it was something I needed to unpack. Needless to say, I’ve been wanting to write this post for the last two weeks, and I’ve finally found the time. So, here it goes.
I would consider myself a pretty independent person- I’ve lived by myself for a total of almost four years, I’m financially independent, I pay my own bills, etc. I have all the classic markings of one of those “independent women” the Destiny’s Child heroines sang to us about in the early 2000’s. I’m really happy with who I am– I like knowing I can take care of myself, and I like having to be accountable for myself. I’m comfortable this way, but even more, I’m content.
Since graduating from grad school, I’ve had a lot of decisions to make- where am I going to work? What kind of work will I do? Where will I live? How will I decorate my bedroom? All of these are decisions that seemingly only affect me, myself, and I, and I like the freedom in knowing that other people aren’t dependent on my plans and dreams. I’ll admit that there are times when I wonder what the next five years of my life are going to look like, and whether or not that freedom in planning for the future is going to change. I begin to wonder if I should cling to this life of solitary planning and move forward as if I am all I’ll ever be, or if I need to start considering more flexibility in my decision making.
Camara’s words remind me a lot of my traveling endeavors of 2009 and 2010. I traveled a lot– New York, Seattle, London, Madrid, Nairobi, Florida, Washington, D.C., etc. I saw a lot of great things! However, with the exception of my trip to Spain, I did it alone. Was it exciting? Absolutely! Do I regret any of it? Not in the least. But there are times I wonder what having a companion on those journeys would have been like. They were all liberating experiences, don’t get me wrong, but I often wonder what I missed in not sharing it with someone.
In light of what Bishop Camara says about the journey of life, my travels may seem trivial, but what about in your own life? Can you think of anything that you’ve done alone that you wonder what it would have been like to have someone’s hand to hold? How much would that have increased the joy of your experience? The reality is that you’ll never know, and I’m not a proponent of looking back and saying “What if…,” but I am a supporter of taking what you know of the past and looking forward with a new hope.
Think about a time that you tried to explain something you experienced to someone who wasn’t there. Two outcomes are possible- First, you could be a really, really great story teller, tell the story perfectly, and the person listening can clearly imagine what your experience was. The other possible outcome is that you tell the story, and the other person just doesn’t get it. We’ve all told and been told those stories, and how do they usually end? “Well… I guess you just had to be there.” It’s similar to trying to explain the color of the water to people who have never seen the cerulean blue of the Caribbean.
Here’s the deal- being comfortable by yourself is a really great trait- it means you’ve acknowledged that you can be alone, happy, and content. What I think the Bishop’s words are trying to express is that, while a lot of people take solace in knowing their abilities to be alone, somethings are better and more powerful with a companion. Instead of trying to explain the color of the ocean to someone, invite them into that experience with you.
Here’s the flip side- Spoiler alert: sometimes bad things happen. I think it’s easy to talk about the “good” times we experience in life, and sharing that with someone, or multiple people. It’s harder to acknowledge that the hard times will inevitably come. For the more independent people, I think it’s easy for us to say, “Hey… I’ve gotten through one or two or twenty bad things…. I can get through one more,” but what’s wrong with admitting that sometimes we wish we didn’t have to face a challenge alone? Does that show weakness? Are we less credible as people who are actually able to survive on our own?
And now we’ve reached the core of what I think this quote is meant to mean for us (at least for me): Companionship does not show weakness. Companionship shows our desire to be in relationship. Our desire to be in relationship comes from our human instinct and call to love. Think about those stories you tell your friends- you’re not telling them because you want them to suffer (unless you’re just realllllly mean…)– no, you tell them because you want to invite them into the beauty or excitement that you experienced. There’s a joy that you want them to feel. Our call to be in relationship with one another is out of a need to share joy and love with another one of God’s created souls.
Life is a great trip. Sometimes, we want a hand to hold while we experience it. Sometimes we need a hand to help us up when we’ve fallen. Sometimes we are that hand to help someone else up when they’ve grown weary. God intends for us to be in relationship with each other and with God. The trinity is an illustration of God in relationship with God’s self as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we were meant to go on this journey alone, the journey would have been over a long time ago.
I will never regret doing any of the things I’ve done alone. In fact, I celebrate that I’ve been able to do a lot of those things with freedom. But I’m also not afraid to admit that I look forward to more experiences that I’ll be able to share with people I love. For me, it takes some self-encouragement to invite people into relationship (purely based on my own insecurities), but this is something I challenge everyone to do– Invite someone into your experience. Let them share that joy with you. Life is a great trip, but we are here for a blink of an eye. Walk alongside each other, and experience this life the way God intended for us, embracing the beauty of His world.
In closing, this song is heavily rooted in a romantic understanding of companionship, but the idea of companionship transcends romance– it incorporates, familial love, friendship, and kinship. Regardless, it’san awesome song. Just listen to it.