For my holiday I’m staying at a hostel for the first time in my life, in a six-bed dorm. As I’ve always struggled in social situations this has been a huge challenge, but I’m glad I took the risk, as I’ve survived – so far!
The population of the room changes from day to day, different people, of different ages, genders and nationalities. Some are just passing through for one night, others stay for longer. Some are friendly, others more reserved.
It’s really like a microcosm of life in the ‘real’ world, and there are a lot of observations, lessons and reflections that I could take from this model. The most obvious one is that all of us, with our many differences of background, have a common purpose, a common humanity, and a mutual respect. We are vulnerable to each other but no one takes advantage of that vulnerability. Instead we just get on with life, organising and coordinating our daily tasks without a problem. All right, maybe it’s actually a microcosm of Utopia.
But what has struck me deepest about this environment is the coming and going of individuals. Some will stay longer than others, but all will eventually leave, as I will too. And of course that is a reflection of life. Some friends, family and acquaintances will be with you for most or all of your journey, while others are only with you for a season.
As I look back on my life – and I couldn’t have done this without the guidance of a good therapist – I can see that I’ve always had problems with attachment. I don’t completely understand them, but some things are starting to make sense.
Maybe I was aware of these comings and goings from an early age. I didn’t make many close friends at school – not close enough to see them during holidays – so in some sense the end of each term was a mass separation event. That’s just one theory. But for whatever reason, I seemed to learn early not to get close to people because they would always go away.
And then, as I travelled through my teenage years I came to realise how important that closeness was. Not the closeness of family, which is natural and in our blood, but the closeness of someone who chooses to bond with you, who connects with you in a different way.
And as this was so important – probably the most important thing in my life from the age of 15 onwards – I would cling when I saw the possibility of such a bond. When it came to attachment I was literally all or nothing. I’ve no doubt this caused confusion and discomfort for some of those around me, and as for myself it led to loneliness and misery.
Thirty or so years later I’m beginning to understand some of this, and trying to break patterns of thought and behaviour that have kept me isolated, kept me from growing emotionally. It takes time, effort and courage. A week in a six-bed dorm is one step on the journey.
But I mustn’t lose sight of something else – the One who will never leave or forsake me. Christ is the One who I don’t need to be apprehensive about attaching to. He’s been there from the beginning and will be there at the end. I was searching for Him through my twenties and thirties, but didn’t really know until we found each other when I was 38. This doesn’t mean I don’t need human companionship – see my 14 February post for my thoughts on that – but He strengthens me and it’s in the light of my relationship with Him that I can learn to build healthy relationships with others.