Tish Warren’s topic this week is “Calling a Friend.” Just now I was listening to a panel discussion on NPR about the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. When asked about the causes for the 30% increase in suicides from 1996 to 2016, Dr. Nadine Kaslow, former president of the American Psychological Assn. said:
…things have become less personal. Our communities have become less tight-knit, and it’s much more individualized and much less focused on our communities and our neighborhoods and reaching out to each other.
When I was in elementary school I was the target of incessant bullying. I’ve often reflected that had I been born a couple of generations later I might have been a candidate for childhood suicide. Fortunately I lived next door to a very good friend, my grandfather. While my parents could not understand my angst, or at least had no idea how to respond to it, my grandfather was always there to listen and to give me the encouragement I needed to persevere.
Perhaps because of those early school years, I had few friends in junior high or high school. My one close friend from college and I drifted apart after college; a few years after losing contact with him I heard that he had died, alone and lonely.
I did fall in love and got married soon after college. I considered my wife to be my best friend. However, I discovered that is an impossibly heavy burden to put on one’s spouse at the same time she is trying to raise two young children and to be the soul bread winner — because I’d gone bankrupt on a failed business venture after going two years without a salary and later got fired over a disagreement with a boss. It very nearly cost me my marriage. That was a very desperate and lonely time in my life.
My road to recovery started with getting involved with the Men’s Movement of the late 1980’s. I soon discovered that there were many men who felt lonely and isolated. This eventually led to my joining the small group of people that I mentioned in an earlier blog. For the last 20 years we have gathered together twice a month to meditate.
Ours is a deeply spiritual, nature-based practice patterned after the “shamanic journey” practiced by indigenous shamans around the world for thousands of years. We are a very eclectic group: a Buddhist, a 7th day Adventist, an Episcopalian, a lapsed Catholic and a Methodist. Over the years we have developed a deep and loving trust for each other and with Spirit. This relationship, and my family, have been my anchors for many years.
This brings me to the current day. I am very excited about the different way we at Vermont Hills are doing church. I believe this new “conversational” style of worship is helping break down the barriers of isolation of modern Western society. It is encouraging a rediscovery of interpersonal relationships, of allowing ourselves to open up and risk being vulnerable in a supportive environment in God’s presence. It is giving us an opportunity to share our doubts and fears, our hopes and aspirations with each other and with God.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.