“I have my books and my poetry to protect me. I have no need of friendship. Friendship causes pain. Its laughter and its loving I disdain. I am a rock. I am an island. A rock feels no pain and an island never cries.” For many years, these words by Paul Simon exemplified my lifestyle. Now, I look at this song as one of the saddest, ever written; ranking up there with John Lennon’s admitted plea for “Help!”.
A child of the early fifties, I grew up with folk music. Woodie Guthrie, The New Christie Minstrels, Peter Paul & Mary lost top chart billing with the growing rebellion of the sixties. My life seemed to follow along. I had always been a loner. I would much rather read, than play sports. I was always too small, too short, or too clumsy. At least, so I was told. This could never be the case, when I was engrossed in a good book. Here was a world in which I could read leisurely, or zip through at high speed. Here, I could grow and here was where my strength lay. My love of reading was and still is, a means of escape; a protection of sorts.
While the heroes of other kids were: Mantle, Horning and Chamberlain; mine were Hercules, Samson and Ulysses. Looking back, I can recall thinking that mine would beat their’s in a fight any day! I suppose that “knowledge” brought a sense of security. Instead of the shame of being the last one picked, I got to chose my team. I could also insert myself into their escapades and adventures. This strongly developed my imagination and creativity, for which I am thankful. But, it also drew me into myself and increased my poor self image as a social outcast.
Friendship was indeed a bitter concept. Novelized friends were true friends, willing to die for one another. Hercules and Ulysses fought side by side, against the gods, out of a sense of honor. A true example of this I found recorded in the Bible. Jonathan risked his life in helping his friend David, out of love. But to me, “friends” were around when pulling a prank; then nowhere to be found when facing an angry teacher or parent. “Friends” were there asking for help with homework, then laughing at the nerd when your work helped their grade. Now I can look back and say that these were just their “human failings”. But, until not so long ago, I just said “I don’t need them”.
Laughter was much the same. I saw it directed at me, not something to be joined in with me. I’m sure that this was not always true. But a good defense has always been my first choice. This tended to make me appear sullen. Even now, I may be laughing hysterically inside, with little more than a grin showing outwardly. I feel that the insecurity of not wishing to be the brunt of a joke, also served a good purpose. It made me a more considerate and compassionate person. I really hate to see anyone be a target for someone else’s wrongly aimed barbs. Unlike storybook hero’s, I’m no one’s champion. But, more than once I found myself involved in a fight to defend another’s feelings. Perhaps, the fight was not for them, but for myself. This may have just been an excuse to justify my anger, without drawing attention to the “weakness” of my own feelings.
Love was a desire, which I could not define. Like a dark threat in a dream, love drew close enough to glimpse. But, never close enough to really grasp. It seemed to be yanked away, or I pushed it away out of fear of enduring more hurt. Maybe part of that was the innocence of the fifties. My perception of a “normal” family was; Ward, June, Wally and the Beav”. When reality set in, it came as a definite blow! Confusion mixed with hurt, fear and loss, when my dad died three days after my fourteenth birthday. Prepubescent anxieties turned into full blown teenage rebellion, coupled with the rage of disbelief. Irrational questions produced anger instead of answers. How could my dad die and leave us, if he loved us? How could a loving God take him, from us? Did my dad die knowing that I loved him? Was I in some way responsible for the heart attack that killed him? Was he really dead, or was it a hoax, like some were saying about Kennedy? Why? That was the real question; just “Why?”. Love was a mixture of desire and disdain. Love equaled hurt and I had no more room for it.
So, I shut down, at least outwardly. Inside I churned. At the age when most guys were on their way to dating, I was on my way to an ulcer and a nervous breakdown. Desire for relationships fought with the fear of rejection and the insecurity of being left alone again. The desire to reach out to others, was overwhelmed by pushing them away, before getting close enough to be hurt.
But, the desire to be with someone, to be someone, remained. Not enough years later, I got married. It was short lived. Even the church seemed to reject me, as I was told that a divorced person could not participate in any leadership role. Again, my answer came down to; “Then I don’t need you, either.”. Bad became worse.
A rock? An Island? No pain or tears? That sounded good, to me! That’s what I tried to make myself into; an impenetrable fortress. Walls went up, surrounding me, keeping everyone out, including those who loved me. As my dad’s death had proven, even the love of family was a threat. When I felt that I could no longer keep those walls up, I retreated into drugs. I could still feel. Now, I just didn’t care. That was the worst fantasy of all. Reality had become no more than an illusion to me. Death scared me less than living. It was an option which I came within a hair’s breadth of choosing. God had other plans.
At this moment, at the lowest point of my life, God stopped me. I didn’t undergo any immediate, miraculous change. He just stopped me from the downward course on which I was headed. He made me realize that the love I had for those whom I had lost, lived on for others. I had all but disassociated myself from my mother and my sister. This was out of shame for the lifestyle which I was leading. But, how could I pass my anger onto them? What right did I have contemplating leaving them, if I loved them? How could I impose what I had hated and feared, onto someone else? For the first time in many years, I cried.
As a child, I had put my trust in Jesus. Now, after many years of faithlessness, I returned. Again, this began slowly. Caution was replaced by trust, only after a long time. Thank God for His patience. Can you imagine, God loving me so much that He was willing to prove Himself to me? Incredible! Yet, step by step, that’s exactly what He did and still does. I thank God also for the prayers, which had never ceased on my behalf, from a loving mother. She never gave up on what God could do in my life. I thank God also, for bringing Carol into my life, as my wife and best friend. Her urging drew me back into church attendance. This began as a desire to be better role models for our son. But then it grew into the desire to worship and know God more intimately. This grew into becoming members of a neighbor-hood Bible study, of which we eventually became leaders. God has chosen to bring trusted friends, true brothers into my life. My circle of friends is small, but sure. I have no idea where God is leading me. But, I can rest in the assurance that even in the tough times, I’m not walking alone.
No longer is my heart a rock. No longer do I feel the need to hide behind walls of hate, bitterness and anger. I still have fears. But my strength comes from faith in my lord. He is my Rock, fortress and deliverer.
I still enjoy retreating and escaping into a good book. But, my life is no longer lost in fantasy; it’s firmly rooted in God’s truth. I still enjoy folk music, along with many other types. I’m still very partial to Simon & Garfunkle. But, there are times when hearing brings reflection. Now I find peace not in being an island; but in the knowledge that Christ is my “Bridge over troubled waters”.