by Father Mark Goldasich
What is hell like?
English author C.S. Lewis had a unique take on the question. I was reminded of it in a Daily Bread reflection from Celebration Publications written by Jeanne Lischer. Lewis imagined hell in his book “The Great Divorce” as “a place where people are forever moving farther and farther away from one another.”
In contrast to what we envision as the communion of saints in heaven, hell engenders isolation. And we know how destructive that is here on earth when, for example, a person is placed in solitary confinement. Having only oneself as company produces mental, physical, spiritual and emotional distress.
Lischer sees evidence of that isolationism all around us in today’s world. And I agree with her. It’s not unusual now to see people out to dinner “together” and each one is absorbed in his or her cellphone. We’ve let virtual connections and communication replace actual, real-world interaction.
What we’re losing in the process is conveyed beautifully in this story:
As part of an assignment for a doctoral thesis, a college student spent a year with a group of Navajo Indians on a reservation in the Southwest. As he did his research, he lived with one family, sleeping in their hut, eating their food, working with them and generally living the life of a 20th-century Native American.
The old grandmother of the family spoke no English at all, yet a very close friendship formed between her and the student. They spent a great deal of time sharing a friendship that was meaningful to each, yet unexplainable to anyone else.
Despite the language difference, they shared the common language of love and understood each other. Over the months, the student learned a few phrases of Navajo, and the grandmother picked up a little of the English language.
When it was time for his return to the campus to write his thesis, the tribe held a going-away celebration. It was marked by sadness since the young man had become close to the whole village and all would miss him.
As he prepared to get into the pickup truck and leave, the old grandmother came to tell him goodbye. With tears streaming from her eyes, she placed her hands on either side of his face, looked directly into his eyes and said, “I like me best when I’m with you.” (Adapted from “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
What a beautiful sentiment: I like me best when I’m with you. That’s a glimpse of heaven on earth.
We need one another to survive and thrive. That’s especially true with those we call our friends. Yet, in our overly busy world, we take less and less time to meet in person. Our “interactions” are limited to a quick text every now and then or a post or comment on Facebook.
While we promise to “do lunch soon,” we make scant effort to do so. And then we wonder why we drift further and further apart.
Summer is a perfect time to reconnect — in real time, in person — with those who are most important to us. There’s no shortage of picnics, family reunions and other gatherings in these months. Make plans now to attend one of these.
Or schedule that lunch with a neglected friend. Just be sure to leave your cellphone in the car.
Sharing our time and our lives with those we cherish is worth any effort.
Why? Because it helps us rediscover what the old grandmother knew so well: “I like me best when I’m with you.”