Saturday, January 10, 2009

Colds, Subways and Holiness

I'm finally coming to the end of this cold. It's been a knock-down drag-out for the past three weeks and I think that my immune system has finally surrounded the enemy and is near to storming the hill, taking the bridge, toppling the wall.

It seems that everyone in NYC is suffering the same cold right now.

In many ways, living here has been simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. Since I suffer from general anxiety disorder and I'm slightly OCD, I am, by nature, prone to isolationism. Isolationists do very peculiar things that cloak their deadly love of being alone. They usually spend hours on the phone every week with friends. Another outlet for the isolationist is blogging. We can blog and blog and get a pretty good fix for the need for being relational. However, there is a problem with this scenario: Depression. It is ever-looming at the end of each phone conversation and at the end of each blog discussion.

Karl Menninger said that the best way to tackle depression is to "walk across the railroad tracks and do something for someone else." He also said that "Love cures people -- both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it...." And you can't really experience love, humanity and sanity the way we were meant to if we aren't investing our physical self into other people. I truly believe that real Holiness can not be activated unless you are using your physical limbs to serve someone else. Sure, I feel really Holy after I've sat in a room alone, studying the wonders of the Blessed Trinity, but it all turns... odd... and distorted --and eventually unholy and self-righteous-- if there is no physical manifestation of that revelation.

And that's the deal. We are both physical and spiritual beings and for us to truly experience peace and Joy the way that we are meant to experience, we have to walk out of our self-made monasteries and into the pressing and frustrating flesh of the world. This is one of the reasons why the Eucharist is so important. It is God's reminder that true spirituality is not the absence of the flesh, it is the harmony of flesh and spirit in the journey towards "Shalom." My Jewish doctoral student told me two days ago that Shalom doesn't simply mean "peace." It means "the way things are supposed to be."

And this is where this City has been good for me. I cannot sit in my office and tap away on a keyboard and be happy. It is impossible to even FEEL really alone unless I force it. In this way, loneliness is a conscious, moment by moment choice rather than a conceded necessity. Therefore, if you make the choice to be lonely, it is all the more poignant. In many ways, somehow, this place won't allow it.

To get anything I need, I MUST interact with other human beings, and that means experiencing all the baggage that comes with that. To get downtown, I can't get on my modern-day steed, pop in a CD and drive my lonesome self to the supermarket and cover the loneliness with NPR or Gospel Music or some book on tape. No, to get my favorite cereal, I have to get on a subway and squeeze in between two people who I have never met. More than that, I usually have to ask for help, and more often than not, I usually have to help someone else in the process as well. The subway roars to a stop and people push their way in and off the train. Then that person appears face to face with you. They are frantic, desperate and scared. "Does this train go uptown or downtown," they speak fast like an auctioneer.

Instant connectivity. "It goes uptown." A look of relief melts across their face as they jump into the train next to you before the door takes off one of their limbs. In one second, you've helped someone you've never met, and though they didn't mean to, they've helped you.

It may sound funny, but it is those little interactions throughout the day that punch the isolationist out of you and engage you in the small physical acts that bring holiness into the real world. Sure, people can experience this other places, it's just that this particular environment has shown me just how much I NEED to know people, interact with people -whether voluntarily or involuntarily. It kicks my selfish lonely self out into the human race and forces me to either be Holy, or not. A good lesson that I'm still learning.

No comments: