How many people have you met and become acquainted with in your lifetime?
It is an interesting question, one I pondered this week as I thought about how my beginnings in a small central Illinois town have driven me out to meet people from all over the country, and some international residents.
Now to be sure, I am not much of a traveler and my experiences surely pale in comparison to others. There are many people out there who have been in contact with thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people in their lifetimes.
Just considering my Facebook friends, my list includes some I have known since birth and toddlerhood, some from elementary school and high school, many from the various jobs I have held, some who follow Spirit Matters, and as of late, I am reaching out and connecting to authors in contemplative and spiritual genres to be my “friends.”
It is true, there are many on my list whom I have never met in person, and there are some on my list with whom I really have no contact.
Even though I might not have met many of these artists in person, most of them have influenced my life through their work, and changed me inside.
That is the work of the Spirit.
Through their work and their voices that are amplified by their books or social media, they have greatly impacted my life, some of them changing the trajectory of my spirituality in its ever-organic evolution.
There are also countless people whom I have met and our lives have interacted to various degrees that are not on my relatively small Facebook friend list.
I think about the friends on my floor in college and others I met during my college years, all of whom I’ve long lost touch with.
I think about the people I regularly have come in contact with, just through the movements of daily life: my auto mechanic, my doctors, my dentists, the cashier at Casey’s, the servers at the many restaurants I frequent, people at church, the list goes on and on…
When you stop and think about it, each of our lives have touched or been touched by more people than we can count. And, I can truly say I have encountered some wonderful people in my life and am grateful to continue to call them friends.
This interaction with others is part of human nature.
As Thomas Merton famously said, “No man is an island.” And he lived much of his life as a solitary monk.
There was a time in my life where I had all but made my life an island, while I was living alone.
Having experienced some great difficulties and hurts in previous friendships and jobs, and spurred on by depression and anxiety, I pretty much isolated myself in my apartment, leaving only for work, to pick up items at the store, and to occasionally go to the library or the bookstore, where it was pretty much guaranteed human interaction would be kept to a minimum.
I have to admit, this life of silence and solitude quickly grew on me, and living that lifestyle moderately can be of great benefit, spiritually.
But then when the time came for God to move me into the next phase of my life, first at a summer camp for people with disabilities, then as a newspaper reporter, it was difficult, and often painful to learn how to be among people again. Did I mention that I have since become an occasional public speaker, as well? No one can say God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Its not that I lost my ability to talk and communicate with others, but because I had spent so much time by myself, I was often left exhausted at the end of the day, after having processed any number of conversations and interactions.
The truth is, and this was a hard lesson for me to learn, is that we need each other.
We need each other to help us grow.
We need each other to advance in knowledge and to share different viewpoints.
We need each other to confide in, to listen to and to grow in friendship.
We need each other to reflect back to us those areas we need to improve upon.
We need each other when we suffer and grieve.
We need each other when we are happy and have something to celebrate.
We need each other to love.
Because the bottom line is that every one of these people we have met throughout life, regardless of our level of interaction with them, has been placed there for us to learn a little more about love and how to pass it on to the next person we meet.
We live in a web of humanity.
We are responsible to care for and protect each other when needed, and to care for and protect the natural world around us, including all living beings.
It is a basic rule of existence.
Let us take it to heart and be love for all those living beings, human and otherwise that we meet in our unique lives.
SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.