Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Man Is an Island


  • -John Donne said it first and best. I just learned that “ask not for whom the bell tolls” was in the same meditation as “no man is an island”. He packed those insights in, in one paragraph in this case!

  • -Here are one woman’s thoughts on reinhabiting her own community as part of her efforts toward simplicity.

-Thomas Merton, a new favorite of mine, had a lot to say on this topic (he wrote a whole book with the same title as this blog). A man who experienced (and perhaps preferred) much solitude, he did not fail to recognize how vital community was: “Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and ‘one body,’ will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives.” Here are some other quotes of his.


I write fairly regularly about alone time and down time, both being necessities I have discovered along the way. Both contribute, for me, to a meaningful and balanced lifestyle.

But this week, it’s the flip side I’ve been thinking about: community. One essay I read recently (wish I could remember where) wrote about a different kind of lifestyle than most of us have now. Before TV, before even radio, neighbors were known to visit. They would pass time and share stories. Especially in less populated areas, like the frontier, fellowship was vital for both sanity and survival. I do think there’s something to the in person community, versus all of these online forums we have today. But both come from a good impulse.

Two weeks ago, I experienced community at Burgundy Books in East Haddam. Linda and Chuck were warm and gracious hosts, every writer’s dream. Just a small handful of friends turned out for my Get Satisfied reading, but it filled my heart to feel their encouragement and interest.

My two readings in these last 2 months have called for courage. It was not the courage to stand up and read what I wrote. I needed courage to reach out, to let people know that I wrote something, to ask them to come to my event. I’m also gathering the courage to connect with other writers, exchanging information on agents and workshops. This includes contacting writers much more advanced than I—to get to their wisdom and their encouragement, I am willing to risk rejection.

In keeping with my simplicity focus, I’ve also found likeminded people online, via Freecycle. I’ve decided the types of people who frequent Freecycle want the value of their possessions to be meaningfully maximized, something I can relate to in my efforts to discard with discretion. Rather than dump hauls they are thinking about who might use what they can no longer fit into their home or lifestyle. They are taking reduce, reuse, recycle to a new level of productive community exchange.

Then there’s a more serious kind of community: my first NarAnon meeting last Tuesday, a much needed tool for dealing with an addict family member. To be greeted with warmth and understanding about such a painful dilemma was a long overdue step for me.

It seems all 12-step groups have a lot of catch phrases. These phrases provide important, easy-to-recall reminders of truths that should not be ignored. At NarAnon, I heard, “Keeping coming back. It works if you work it.” The same can be said of community. It’s a well that should be dipped into more often, a tool that can be applied to solve so many problems.

I like this quote by Black Elk, a Sioux holy man. It speaks to our connectedness, to the need for each other that cannot be overlooked:

Hear me, four quarters of the world - a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.

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