I am bent on rescue today. I just walked out into the rain with my bare feet across gravel to rescue . . . a pepper plant that had dropped in the driveway when Dad brought a bunch home last night. He looked so lonely. (Yes, I do realize that most scientists do not think plants have feelings, but I have my suspicions. Have you ever seen a sunflower turn toward its beloved sun?) As I laid him down by the other peppers and tomatoes, I said, “There you go, little guy. You’re back with your family now.”
When I was a kid, I used to have this dream in those moments when I was not quite asleep yet. I saw these creatures – blobs would be the technical term I think – swimming around in their world. They were in groups, and I knew these groups to be families. Sometimes one little blob would get separated from the bigger ones he was traveling with, and even in my half-sleep, I would start to cry. I had to get him back to his parents. I would lay there, forcing myself to stay in that twilight place, until I could move the blob family back together. It didn’t always work.
I’m kind of this way about everything. I cannot stand to see people or animals (or plants or dream blobs, apparently) in pain especially when this pain comes from isolation and loneliness. “It is not good for the Man to be alone,” Genesis says. (I just realized, by the way, that God says this just before God creates the animals; it’s not until later that God creates Eve – that’s interesting). The hardest thing for me to witness is a lone person struggling. When I lived in San Francisco, I saw homeless men and women on the streets all the time. Sometimes they formed communities, and I took comfort in that for them – at least they had each other. Often though, I would see a person alone on the street. Once in a while, one of the folks would have a dog, and I could just tell by the way that he looked at that dog that he would die for it. That pet was the only thing, day in and day out, that he had to love and receive love from. Every time, I could feel my heart rip a little.
It’s quite possible, probable even, that I feel this great empathy for the lonely because I am lonely. Of course I am; is anyone not lonely sometimes? It’s also possible that I am more lonely than most; I can’t know that. What I can know is that loneliness and being alone are not the same thing – something I forget sometimes. Just because a person eats alone at a restaurant does not mean she is lonely; perhaps she just wanted some time to enjoy a nice dinner without being distracted by conversation. Or just because I go to the movies alone – one of my favorite pastimes – does not mean that I couldn’t find anyone to go with me; sometimes I don’t even ask anyone; I just like to be washed over by the film without worrying about whether my companion likes it or not. I like being alone; I hate being lonely.
I think my favorite quote of all time is “We read to know we’re not alone.” (Attributed to C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands) I think I write for the same reason. Writing gives me a space to be alone but not feel lonely. I can climb back into my memory and find stories that fill my days with people and animals and the majestic places I’ve seen. Life is a long journey, and for most of it, we travel alone. Writing is a way for me to take folks with me as I walk, companions on the path. In many ways, it is the way I rescue myself.
This morning, as the pooch and I strolled along in this late-April humidity and heat, I saw a tiny box turtle in the road. He was maybe 5 inches long, and he was brave. He didn’t pull his legs or head in as a passed, although I do think he shrugged his turtle shoulders to try to appear tough. I walked on down the railroad road a bit before turning around and heading back toward home. The little turtle guy was still there, so I took a moment to decide what to do. He was safe (this road doesn’t get much traffic.), and with time, he would certainly get across on his own. Maybe he’d just gone out for a morning stroll like me – taking time to think. Yet, if I took a moment and helped him along, he’d get where he was going much faster – perhaps he was headed home to his family.
I decided I’d do what I would want someone to do for me if I was in his place. I bent down, watched him tuck in for the ride, and carried him to the grass at the edge of the road. Not so much a rescue, per se, but a little leap ahead on the road. He still got to make the journey on his own the rest of the way, but if he was lonely, he’d feel that way for a few minutes less.
As I walked on, I thought, That’s what I’d like God to do for me. Then I realized, God already has.