Several years ago, a friend shared the experience of attending a one-woman show in which the performer created various expressions of her “self.” The performer was known for her comedic edge, and the show did not disappoint when it came to laughs.
The performer appeared as a housewife, a burlesque dancer, a mother, a mother-in-law, a professional executive type, a teacher, a child, and on and on. While there were serious elements to each self, each one also generated many laughs; those laughs seemed to come from each member of the audience having some moment of recognition of the character on stage. It was fun to understand — via art — that we all have diverse elements of our “selves” and yet we are each a whole person because of those elements.
It was fun until the last incarnation appeared.
The last version of the “self” the woman portrayed was homeless. She was what we called growing up (shamefully, I now realize) a “bag lady.” She sat on stage in dirty and ragged clothing, surrounded essentially by bags of garbage, muttering to herself and occasionally trying to catch the eye of the imaginary people on stage with her.
The other selves had been alone on stage as well, but there was always a sense with those that the character existed to others. This character, though also alone, presented the powerful experience of living in an existential vortex into which no one else could — or more accurately wanted to — reach.
It was as if no one in the theater could even breathe. The show closed in silence.
I remember this story, because it demonstrates a common and rarely spoken or even internally acknowledged fear. I wrote about it at the end of last year when a homeless man died in my community and his body was not discovered for days (click here for that post). I think this fear goes beyond being hungry, or homeless, or struggling to find clean clothes or employment.
This fear is about losing something many of us take for granted: A connection to other people that serves as a safety net upon which we all rely.
Some people can articulate that they don’t like “being alone” and that it is even a fear-inducing state for them. Me? I love being alone. Being alone is really the only time I feel inner peace. My world is quiet and calm. My energy is high. Life is free of conflict and it’s easier to hear the voice of God as I understand it.
But being alone is not the same thing as being disconnected. Disconnection is one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had, and I think I may have to mark it as a major fear in my heart. I have never been fully disconnected from society or everyone I know, but I’ve had my toe in the water of what it’s like to start to disappear, and it’s terror-inducing.
The experience I’ll share was in a medical environment. I’ve had others, but this is a good example. It was also the first.
During a miscarriage many years ago, I was convinced my pregnancy could be saved with proper medical intervention. It became clear to me very quickly that I was not a unique individual, nor was my fetus, in the OB-GYN practice where I was seen. I was young enough that the docs weren’t worried that I could get pregnant again and have a successful outcome. They had seen pregnancies like mine collapse before, and had a protocol for letting them go. I felt like a Who from Horton Hears a Who……….. “We are here! We are here! We are here!” But the faces around me said we don’t really care that you think you’re here; we don’t think you are.
Call us in a few weeks. Here’s your paper work. Next…..
With time I accepted what happened and why, but I will never forget that feeling. It was the first time in my life that I remember not being able to convince someone I was special, that they should listen to me, that if we just worked together we could figure this thing out. It was an important lesson, humbling, and also a glimpse into something we all have to learn how to manage eventually.
It leads me back to the concept that a spiritual life and a relationship with God as we understand him/her to be is so important. Sooner or later we look around and other people are not there for us as we’ve always thought they would be. Doctors are not interested in pursuing treatment. Spouses are not interested in continuing marriages. Children grow up and move away. The banker won’t give us a loan, the teacher won’t let us retake the test, there’s no room at the inn.
One of my biggest genuine fears is becoming someone no one is interested in being involved with or helping in any way. It’ll just be me and God.
I have to run. I’ve got some relationship building to do.