Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A hundred million bottles washed up on the shore

... but it didn't help much, because all the people sending their SOSs to the world were still on their own.

This is something I've been struggling with, in the last few weeks. A lot of it has to do with my job. I work shifts, so I don't have many weekends off. This limits my contact with my church family, the community outside my family with whom I am most comfortable. I get more time off than average, but a lot of it (five sevenths!) is during the week. Particularly in term time, I end up spending most of the day on my own, with only my own mind for company, except morning and evening when domesticity requires frenetic activity and coaxing children into getting done what needs to be done. By the time adult conversation becomes a realistic possibility, we're generally thinking of bed ourselves, ready for the next day's onslaught!

At work, I'm rarely with the same people two days running, so don't form close working relationships. Largely, the job is goal-oriented, rather than person-oriented. Non-work related conversation generally doesn't go much beyond the three or so questions I have been asking for the last 16 years - "Do you live nearby? How long have you been doing this? What did you do before this?" Unsurprisingly, it's hard to maintain much interest in these questions having asked and answered them literally thousands of times. My employer is quite multi-cultural - which is great, from the point of view of the colour of the company, but it makes forming connections even harder. And for the most part, I seem to have very little shared ground in terms of values, experiences and ideas. Which, being simply translated, means I don't read the Daily Mail or Hello magazine or watch reality TV or things like X-Factor. Occasionally, you do get into a good chat with somebody - but then you don't see them for the next six months .... And people live over a wide area, so socialising outside work isn't easy.

Sometimes I have to stay away from home, in a hotel. The hotels are nice enough, if you were staying in them with people you cared about and doing interesting stuff. But to be honest, when you are forced to stay there, probably with nobody who you particularly know, they are sensory deprivation chambers - most particularly in the respect of human company - voices, thoughts, presence. I understand that quite a bit of immoral behaviour takes place in hotels - not that I've seen it, though I'm aware of gossip, of what's on the Pay TV channels, and how "discretion is assured" on your bills. It doesn't come as a great surprise - a hotel from work is a pretty lonely place. I wrote a poem about it once ...

So the thought of doing this for another 20-25 years is currently filling me with - well, I don't know - a kind of resigned dread.

From time to time, you meet somebody and there is a genuine engagement with their mind - something happens that is beyond the everyday, something that feels like real knowledge, real communion, real intercourse. I think that, although a lot of people today never bother with this - probably don't even know it exists - scratching unawarely at the itch instead by substituting a cheap version of sex, it is something that thoughtful non-Christians are better at than many Christians - perhaps we are generally too scared of the intensity of emotions that it can create, and how closely linked they are to the depth of feeling that is part of a marriage relationship. Yes, a marriage relationship should be off-limits to everyone else, from a Christian point of view; yes, there should be no areas that a husband and wife can't talk about together: but it's almost inevitable that there will be some areas in which even the most deeply absorbed husband and wife will not necessarily find the same interest, and as long as the boundaries of that relationship are protected, I can't see that it is harmful for those things to be shared with somebody else. To take an obvious example, except where a husband and wife are working together, this is likely to be an area in which they simply keep their own space.

But in a sense, that idea of a close communion of minds is extreme. You can't say if that's going to happen - it just does, from time to time, and it changes your perspective on life, opening up completely new ways of seeing things and knowing things. More realistically, you hope that at some stage, somebody will at least say, "Yeah, that's how I feel about it - that book, that idea, that picture - too. There is somebody else out there like me."

So that's partly why I blog - to get some of the stuff out of my mind, in the hope that someone, somewhere will read it and be engaged by it. This is my message in a bottle - and usually, the real message isn't what you read in the post.

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