I just finished reading Wladyslaw Szpilman's The Pianist and rereading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Both books include accounts of instances in which the real-life protagonists are profoundly alone.
In The Pianist, Szpilman recounts (among several other horrifying experiences) his survival as a Jew hiding in the ruins of Warsaw also occupied by the German army. For the greater part of 4 months, he had to remain in hiding, completely cut off from interaction with any fellow human being. The only human beings he was able to observe for this duration were part of an army bent on exterminating his people. He remembers the Christmas of 1944 and the New Year celebration of 1945 as being the worst and loneliest holidays of his life. Szpilman was at this time devastated by the undeniable thought that he had to be alone if he wanted to live.
Nearly 50 years after Szpilman suffered 4 agonizing months of necessary solitude in order to survive, Chris McCandless voluntarily and enthusiastically embarked on a solo adventure into the wilderness of Alaska, which lasted almost 4 months, and lost his life. Jon Krakauer pieces together the puzzling story of Chris McCandless's tragic and solitary death in his book Into the Wild. McCandless wanted to travel into the Alaskan wilderness and survive entirely on his own for a time, largely by living off the land. After a few weeks it seems he was more than ready to reenter civilization. However, the small river separating wilderness from civilization that he crossed a few weeks earlier had swelled greatly and treacherously because of glacial melt and seasonal rain. He saw no way to cross. In his improvised journal, two words in that day's entry stand out: “Lonely, scared.” The circumstances leading up to McCandless's death remain a mystery. A note he left at his camp a few days before his death indicates he was desperate for help, injured, weak, and includes the phrase “I am all alone.”
The two men in these accounts experienced an aloneness very few of us can fathom. But I think aloneness is something many of us can relate to if only out of the sense of dread with which it is often associated. To me, feeling alone is one of the most depressing and debilitating experiences a person can endure. Offshoots of this feeling that come to mind are fear, despair, emptiness, desperation, hopelessness.
The account of creation given in the book of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, is worthy of much study and meditation. I am endlessly in awe of what these words tell us about the world that was created with all that is in it and around it, of how God created and established it, and of how he views and feels about it.
Remember the repetition of a certain phrase throughout chapter 1?: “And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25). On either side of this cluster of verses are similar statements: “And God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:4) and “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
Continue reading in chapter 2 and you will eventually come upon the first not-good thing mentioned in Scripture. Genesis 2:18 reads “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone….’” I believe this statement of God is recorded for several reasons. One reason is to emphasize that man needs help from someone who can relate to him, someone similar to himself. The latter half of God's statement in verse 18 reads, “I will make him a helper fit for him.”
I find it interesting that the word “help” or “helper” is used as the solution to the not-good circumstance of aloneness. The solution was not a particular relation, a child, a brother, or even a wife. A more general term that every person on this earth can relate to was chosen: “help.” God knows we need other people in our lives to help us in the various circumstances we face. He does not want any of us to be alone.
The men in the books mentioned above both found themselves in desperate situations and entirely alone. One man had to be alone to be safe. The other chose a lonely venture. One man received unlikely help from another man and survived, lived to tell his own tale. The other never received help and died alone, his tale only partially pieced together by a man he never knew.
Both men were in situations where they could not simply walk over to a person and ask for help. Most of us have never and will never experience a circumstance even remotely resembling these. However, there are times when we feel alone, and we hurt because of this feeling. In these not-good times, do you see that there is help? Can you find another person to talk to? Can you email a relative, text a sibling, call a friend? The emotional experience of feeling alone is not the same as the reality of being alone. Remember these things, self (and others reading this), when emotion overwhelms actual circumstance. God does not want you to be alone. He did not create you to be alone. He wants you to benefit from the help of other people. He quite literally made it so.
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