Two weeks ago my husband and our two boys spent spring break in Minnesota. I stayed home with only the dog and the lizard for company in order to prepare for a speaking engagement at the end of the week.
I’d looked forward to my week alone for a long time. The thought of hours of quiet and uncluttered kitchen counters made me giddy with anticipation. I stocked my freezer with Lean Cuisines, borrowed a stack of novels from the library, purchased a large bar of dark chocolate and a bottle of Malbec, and tuned the television to HGTV. I could hardly wait for my troupe to hit the road on Sunday morning. As the car rounded the corner, I waved from the front door with a grin on my face.
The first few hours were all I had imagined. I took a nap in a square of sunshine pooling on the sofa. I ate my Asian Chicken with Peanut Sauce sitting on a barstool at the kitchen counter with a book in my hand. I watched four HGTV programs back-to-back.
But by Monday afternoon my giddiness had ebbed, and by Tuesday I had fallen into a funk.
I began to space out my errands so I’d have something to do each day. I talked aloud to the dog on our afternoon walks, oblivious of what passersby might think. I was lonely. I missed my people, even the pre-teen who tended to talk at the decibel level of a Boeing 747 before I had my morning coffee.
Turns out, I needed community more than I had thought.
Forester Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, notes that contrary to popular belief, trees that grow closely together in a forest are more likely to survive and thrive than those with ample space between them. Rather than competing for natural resources, trees – especially those of the same species – synchronize their rate of photosynthesis and divide their water and nutrients via their root systems so that all can be equally successful.
In fact, even sick or weak trees are nourished by their neighbors, because the trees know that they are only as strong individually as the entire forest as a whole.
As I learned from my week alone, human beings are more like trees than we might expect. God knew that human beings, like trees, thrive in community. We need each other for nourishment, connection, and support. This is exactly why God created Eve as a companion to Adam.
“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God observed (Genesis 2:18). Even with the great variety of plants and animals in the Garden of Eden, God realized Adam needed a like-minded companion with whom to share the triumph and travail of life on earth.
Silence and solitude are important because they offer us the space and time to connect with ourselves and God. Likewise, community is equally vital, offering us companionship and, like the trees in a forest, nourishment and resources to sustain us. The key, I’ve learned, is not to overindulge in one at the expense of the other, but to aim for a healthy balance of both.
This post first ran in the Lincoln Journal Star on March 26, 2017.