“Family love indeed subverts the idea of what we should
feel for every soul in the world”
Steven Pinker “The Blank State: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”
Families have the potential to love lots of souls in the world by bonding momentarily with insiders and outsiders. And also, we choose to run deep over time with friends or loved ones throughout our lives way too soon.
Our country and the world are experiencing severe separations among racism, sexism, politics, and faith communities. We are now learning the turmoil is beyond the 1960s and may go way beyond the Civil War years.There does not seem to be a way to stop the bleeding and it may continue for decades. We have tried bringing groups together of all walks of life to deal with the splits, with little success.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was recently interviewed by a prominent journalist, Christine Armanpour. The main question was how will we turn a corner on the chaos in the world. Blair was very articulate and energized at the outset but Armanpour kept asking about how will we ever find a way to come together in the future? The Prime Minister seemed a little worn out by the end of the interview and had no real answer to the question.
Just before watching that interview I came across a quote I felt was too harsh about Americans. D.H. Lawrence declared that “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”
Maybe there is some truth in Lawrence’s views. What if we are more hard, isolate and stoic but not so much killers? Perhaps we need to find a way to soften our hardness but it will likely continue for a long time.When I drive in my city, motorists are mostly alone behind the wheel with windows up. Impatient drivers can become hard, isolate and stoic with a tinge of wanting to kill a few Americans on occasion. What about our isolated neighbors these days compared to sixty years ago when there were numerous folks sitting on American porches? Our traffic and porch life have never yet begun to melt and the internet may keep us from it.
Have we changed much from when Lawrence observed our country in 1918? What’s the answer? When I began writing my self-published book titled, “Running Deep with Strangers: A Must for Human Survival” it struck me I wanted to convey there is a way to overcome our isolated lives and not just in our country but the world. I backed off from my manuscript and wound up with a semi memoir. I thought I was too egotistical at the time but now that I am in my 80s I figure, what’s to lose?
The must for human survival begins when two beings choose to run deep one-on-one, that’s when the melting begins and those bonds are innate. We will have to alter the way we bond with each other. What if our young adults marry too soon and become locked in with love right away? When babies arrive most of the tenderness gets swept up too soon. By bonding too early in life we manage to use up years of empathy that may belong to friends, relatives and strangers in our midst.
Young adults are are not wanting to marry early these days or have children too soon. Some may be due to lack of funds but others may sense there is intimacy to be had in their future.
Neuroscience lab experiments have revealed that an innate tendency to trust can be triggered between total strangers in an instant. Participating scientists suggest the risk to trust immediately is “probably augmenting an extreme rich model (we) come equipped with.” (New York Times, A Study of Social Interactions Starts with a Test of Trust,” by Henry Fountain. 4/2/05.)
Socialists are discovering that married couples choose not to open up on their deepest feelings for fear they may hurt their spouses, and their friends for that matter. So, innateness is ripe for engaging with strangers. If we do choose to urge young adults to hold back on bonding early there will have to be a recruiting program and a lengthy training process for months perhaps similar to the Peace Corps model.
Shooters in schools may never have had bonding moments with parents, siblings, extended family members, classmates, friends, teachers or strangers. They may stand in a classroom with a rifle and spray bullets, and see only hollow beings. Running deep with a person, known or not, can reveal their fears, hate, loneliness and depression in minutes. It may seem like a hit and run bond but it can survive forever. There are one-sided such bonds but the best are those with both engaging.
There are 100,000 gang members in Los Angeles and likely hundreds of killers among them who have never experienced those bonding moments with parents, siblings, extended family members, classmates, friends, teachers or strangers. They were merely hollow victims that didn’t matter.
What if single bonds become the way of life on this earth and citizens choose to travel and risk revealing their deepest feelings once with dozens of strangers? Often when I have run deep with travelers and bump into them they don’t wish to meet again. I have had pastors whom I have never met open up with their feelings in a first meeting. They promised to have lunch again but they never call back.
When our family was in Paris recently we walked along the river Seine. Liv recalled the spot where I ran deep with a Frenchman on a bench nearby 10 years ago, and I had spotted it just before she mentioned it.
I still recall deep moments on Skid Row in L.A. when I served as a street chaplain 50 years ago. I remember where Lee and I sat together at the counter in a café and a guy named Ray, another transient, at the end of a bar on the corner of Fifth and Broadway. My hunch is they can recall our encounters on an occasion but if not, I feel they left me with a piece of their lives.
Lee and I were classmates in High School and became close friends but we lost track when I moved away. I learned from his parents he wound up living on Skid Row in L. A. but he refused to come home. They asked me if I might try to find him when I began my street chaplain ministry on Skid Row. I figured it would be a lost cause but one Saturday morning I did see him. I was a basket case but he turned and said “Hi Buzz.” He was poised and I wasn’t. He asked if I would like to go to a café for coffee. We sat and talked for 2 hours. I had to tell him he was an uncle and his parents were eager to see him.
Lee said, “Let me tell you why I have survived on these streets. For some reason I did not feel loved in my home. My parents and sister were nice but I like transients and I found that I need different people and it gives me hope and for some reason I don’t need to have long friendships or relatives in my life.”
Lee’s admission caused me to write my doctoral dissertation about running deep with strangers.
What if bonding moments were to be the only way to exist in the future? Marriages, children and friendships also rely on isolated bonding moments in their relationships. That’s what keeps them together.
We may feel we have never been able to know our neighbors or co-workers but we truly don’t want to have extended bonds with them. We can be nice and nod but what if we were to risk running deep with a neighbor on the block or a worker once and be honest and tell him or her that we will never go deep together again in the future? They will likely feel the same way.
I met with a sister and brother in their sixties when we talked about the eulogy for their grandfather who had raised them. They told me about his highly success in business, his doctoral degree at Harvard, a DCO and his high degree in the Masons. They went on and on about his achievements.
I asked them if they had any close moments with him. They looked at each other but could not come up with anything. The sister admitted that he was rather stern and distant but they admired him dearly. I asked them if they might think for a few minutes. They sat there for several minutes and suddenly they beamed at the same time.
The sister said “When we were teenagers the candy dish on the coffee table was off limits. When grandad started to go to bed he warned us to not get into the candy dish. Well, it had a glass cover and a noisy lid but we went after it. He had to have known we did grab the candy as soon he closed his door. Maybe that’s all you need, Reverend.”
Jesus taught us how to survive in this world. He spent most of his time bonding with strangers on the road and modeled how to bond once with our enemies and neighbors. He may have also held off getting married early in order to run deep with as many beings as possible.
Here’s to all the brief moments lodged in us, just pieces, but they can become the most crucial bonds among our friends, loved ones, and strangers.