I live an important part of my life alone but, oddly, often in the presence of other solitary people. Our only common denominator would seem to be that for whatever reason, we live some portion of our lives apart from the rest of society. For some this is a choice; for others it is imposed upon them. The common denominator is isolation.
I usually see other solitary people early in the morning. My isolation is both by choice—I love the quiet of the very early mornings—and is imposed upon me by two difficult youngsters. Cousins, a boy age 8 and a girl age 4, they play well together but are otherwise completely lacking in social skills. They chase anything that moves, roll in the dirt, eat off the ground, pee and poop everywhere and when restrained, bark at others. Jackson is a Welsh Terrier and Rosie is a Scottie.
So I take them out early to run in parks and greenbelts before the local animal control officers are up enforcing the leash laws. Where I live, the early morning is a beautiful time of day. But it is also the time that my fellow solitary people are out and about.
This morning I found a homeless man sleeping under a pavilion in the park. A half-empty wine bottle and a carton of cottage cheese sat to his left, while his cell phone lay on his blanket to his right. I didn’t let my dogs wake him up.
Often at this same pavilion, a bit later in the day, an elderly Chinese woman walks slightly hunched but with great determination to the park, where she exercises extensively on the playground equipment. About that same time, a younger woman, painfully thin, often walks by with two large dogs. I see her with her dogs so frequently, morning and evening, that she must literally walk thousands of miles a year, always alone.
As I headed back to the parking lot this morning, two cars pulled in. The first, an older, well-used sedan of indiscriminate make and color, belongs to a Vietnamese man I often see collecting bottles and cans out of the shopping center trash bins. The second was a newer SUV, which had me wondering why the driver was parking out in the hinterlands, far away from any open shops. As I watched, a tall, Nordic-looking fellow stepped out of the car and lit a cigarette. Ah! He’s escaping the condemnation of family and friends to engage in the activity that, with the help of Sir Walter Raleigh, made Virginia the wealthiest of the thirteen Colonies.
In addition to varying degrees of isolation, my solitary people all have a few other things in common. All, for example, are loved by God. Yet none of them, so far as I know, attend my church. And none of them have names that I know.
Mike Mason, in a terrific book called The Mystery of Marriage, once wrote:
If man really is fashioned, more than anything else, in the image of God, then clearly it follows that there is nothing on earth so near to God as a human being.
If I am honest, I rarely, if ever, think of myself as being near to God when I see my fellow solitary people. Rather, I’m far more likely to try and find a place even more isolated, such as the patio tables furthest from the coffee shop, where I can read my Bible and pray . . . undisturbed. How ironic that if I actually want to be near to God, it might be time to go and learn a few solitary people’s names.