“In my opinion, all men are islands. And what’s more, now’s the time to be one. Now is an island age. I’m the star of the Will Show, and the Will Show isn’t an ensemble drama. Guests come and go, but I’m the regular. It comes down to me and me alone.” (Hugh Grant as Will in About A Boy)
“And that’s when I realized, two people isn’t enough. You need a back up. If you’re only two people and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number. You need three at least.” (Nicholas Hoult as Marcus in About A Boy)
In preparing to write about community, one of my favorite movies, About A Boy (starring Hugh Grant), kept coming to mind. The film follows the characters of Will, a wealthy bachelor who eschews responsibility and lives life only on his own selfish, solitary terms, and Marcus, a lonely 12-year old who is alienated from his peers and burdened with responsibility for his emotionally unstable, single mother. Through an unforeseen series of events their lives collide, and the two journey together (often in very humorous and broken ways) towards healthier, more complete versions of themselves via their unexpected relationship. Will is transformed through both the opportunity to mentor the younger Marcus in the ways of being “cool” and “hip” (something Marcus sorely lacks) as well as through Marcus’s frank, only-could-come-from-a-12-year-old honesty about the impact of Will’s pathologically selfish ways. Marcus, emotionally more of an adult, is given the freedom through their relationship to be the pre-teen boy he is, step out from the shadow of his mother’s dependency, and find his own identity.
I encourage you all to run out and watch this movie tomorrow whether you’ve seen it or not because (1) it’s awesome, and (2) I think it does a great job of illustrating the truth that we need other people to be our mirrors. Only in relationship do we have the opportunity to have the best and most flawed parts of ourselves reflected back to us, to know our value and worth, to see how we impact others, and what we need to work on.
It’s taken me a long time to understand this. Throughout my own history I’m sad to admit that I’ve been more of a Will than a Marcus, simply in that I can take comfort in being an island. Being an island is safe. There is no need to risk or be vulnerable if it’s just me and no need to trust anyone but myself. There is no chance that I might disappoint someone, make someone angry, or cause someone to walk away. I can count on myself and only myself. The words of the classic Simon and Garfunkel song, I Am a Rock, spring to mind:
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock, I am an island.
In my personal and professional experience the urge towards island living comes not out of being purely selfish and shallow, but from hurts in our past that prevent us from knowing the healthy sense of self required to risk in relationship with others. It wasn’t until I gained a deeper understanding of my own value and worth that a switch flipped and I wanted to bring a greater measure of myself to the people in my life. And it wasn’t just knowing my value and worth, it was the recognition of how it hurt my family and friends when I didn’t show up either emotionally or physically. It’s taken a combination of solid professional care (therapy), the love of Jesus, and my friends and family being mirrors in my life to help me understand my importance, but also the ways in which being an island hurts others.
I recognize that we’re all at different places on the journey. Maybe you’re more like Will at the beginning of the story, attached to the safety of island living and fearful of being vulnerable. Or maybe you’re like Marcus, longing for community but unsure of how to find it. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. I echo what Connally said last week, that community is God’s idea, and I believe He’ll honor any desire in us for truth, growth, and change in the interest of being all He created us to be. In this spirit, I invite you to pour your needs out at His feet in prayer and then trust that He will guide and refresh you on the road to healthier relationships. After all, He is the most perfect, reliable, and accurate mirror there is.
Blessings and a happy belated Thanksgiving….