“It is not good that man should be alone.”
I do not think this is controversial. Essential to a happy and satisfied life is living in the presence of those we love. Consistently.
Perhaps this is most obvious in younger children. They simply want to be together with a small number of people—most of all their family. Yes, they can get used to absence. And so can we all. But it will wear on us, taking its toll.
Here is a remarkable, real conversation that happened between my wife and my daughter Josefina when she was four years old:
Josie: “Does Jesus have magical powers so he could go up to heaven?”
Mama: “Jesus was able to ascend to heaven because he is God, and God can do anything.”
Josie: “You mean, he can even touch a star?”
Mama: “Yes, he can do anything.”
Josie: “He can even come here and be with us?”
Mama: “Yes. As a matter of fact Jesus said wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there.”
Josie: “That means Jesus is here with us now. Does that mean if Jesus were going to work and I asked him to stay and help me do the puzzle, he would just turn around and stay and help me?”
Tears are in my eyes as I relate this. I think what most strikes me is that I never would have guessed that she would say this, that she was experiencing what she was experiencing. As a child gets older, he or she usually doesn’t express such things.
Let me be clear here. I don’t mean this as an exercise in self-flagellation. But the simple truth is that what struck this child as perhaps most magical of all is that Daddy wouldn’t leave her.
I am well aware that certain separations in life simply will have to be, and we have to be able to deal with them. But that said I am convinced that we would all do well to turn a reflective eye to the patterns of our life and examine them in view of the fundamental importance of presence. Herein, I think, we will discover a root source of stress, for ourselves and for others.
Are we making presence a priority? Do we recognize the structures in our life that militate against it, or make it especially hard to achieve? Patterns of work and school, as well as recreation (such as sports) very often make it more difficult simply to live in the presence of those we love most—often more difficult than it really should or needs to be.
Consider the living patterns of single people, who so often live alone, and of older people, who so often live alone. Consider our communal living patterns, and how as a matter of course we do not expect our lives to intersect with these others in significant or consistent ways. We can consider likewise how we use technologies of communication and entertainment and the chilling effects these often have on personal presence. For how many of us of all ages do such practices actually mask a deep longing that is not being fulfilled.
Surely some of these things we cannot directly change. But certain of them are within our power to change. And perhaps most important of all, it seems to me that at least this is always in our power: to put first things first in our heart, especially as regards presence with our loved ones. And then too to convey to those around us where our heart is, even when physical presence is not possible. For where our treasure is, there our heart truly is present. People will feel this. And this in itself will be magical.
Image: Bernard Bloomers (1845-1914), detail from Au Revoir, wherein a boy waves goodbye to his father, a fisherman.