I started a new practice that I’ve been trying to ritualize for the last few weeks. I love my computer and I love my phone and so I spend more time than I should on social media or clowning around on the internet. To curb my tech appetite I started practicing ‘solitude.’ I ditch my phone and go outside to give myself time to think, or pray, or just to look at trees. Sometimes I go for a walk in the hills near my house, sometimes I just sit in my yard and smoke a cigar.
Last week I sat in my yard to try and find silence. It’s not easy to find silence when you live in the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area so I don’t know why I tried. But I did. I sat there and I tried to tune out the the sound of the cars passing by in the street in front of my house. My street is an avenue and in the evening there is no space between the cars traveling home during the evening commute so you are hard pressed to even feign silence. Normally, I’m not bothered much by the sound, but that day I had some real questions for God to answer and I wanted silence because I didn’t want to miss him in case he whispered. He likes to whisper sometimes I think. But on this day I wanted to ask him if he had a plan for my life. I wanted to ask if there was something I was doing wrong, and if he would give me success if I fixed it. I wanted to know if maybe I was unemployed because I needed to invest my time in something specific, or if I had to learn something that I was missing from this experience. I shut my eyes and concentrated on keeping my thoughts separate from the noise of automobiles. I was focusing so hard on tuning them out that my gut started to hurt from the frustration of failure. I asked God, ‘if I should sit here and try to listen, will you at least be louder than the sound of the cars.’ Then God shouted back at me with one of the strangest replies he’s ever given to my inquiries.
As if on cue, a plane ripped the skies open with the thunderous announcement that it was above my head. In the very instant I heard it, the sound was unwelcome. But in an even shorter instant, a thought was conceived, incubated, and born in my brain. That plane above me was an inanimate object, just like any other plane, but it was also filled with hundreds of people just like any other plane. And as far as fate is concerned, the sound of air moving through airplane engines is the most significant connection I’ll ever have to the people in planes. That sound lets me know that they are alive, even if I can’t see their faces, and that they are participating in the well-known human behavior of moving from one place to another.
The people that were in that plane probably aren’t much different from me when you break it down in general terms. They are made of the same elements. They depend on the same things to sustain their aliveness. They were brought into existence the same way I was. They have all experienced happiness, sadness, excitement, disappoint, love, and heartbreak. They probably want the same things as me. Love and acceptance from others, and a secure future. We will never have another interaction except for a noise in the sky, but we have camaraderie.
Our likeness and our camaraderie led me to another realization. There are movies that make those people laugh, there are movies that make them cry, there are stories that they are always ready to repeat to friends that have heard them dozens of times, and there are stories that they will never share with another soul as long as they live. I will never get to know those details about them much further than knowing that those are things everyone goes through. But I think that God knows those things. I think that the details of even the most trivial things about their lives are as important to God as the way I perceive the importance of my own existence. In my life the world revolves around me, and everyone else is just a character in the story of my life. But there is something greater who can grasp the significance of all of the people who are just characters in my life.
And if there is intrinsic value in the lives of those people who are summed up with the sound of a plane then maybe it is worth my time to make an effort to give those people more value. I only had this thought last week, so I can’t spell out what that looks like. But if there is value in the lives of strangers, as much value as there is in my own life, then shouldn’t that be a consideration in the decisions I make. Should my productivity not only take into account what will provide the most benefit for me, but what will also greatly benefit the lives of people I’ll never even meet. If they are so valuable then why shouldn’t I live for them just as much as I live for myself, even if their knowledge of my existence is limited to flying over my house, and my knowledge of them is a sound in the sky?