Published in the Rains County Leader on March 26, 2019:
At the most recent meeting of the East Texas Library Friends Book Club, we discussed the book “The Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel. The subtitle is “The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.” It’s the story of Christopher Knight who walked into the woods when he was 20 years old and lived there until he was captured 27 years later.
Our initial discussions centered around what a hermit actually is and whether Knight met those requirements. We couldn’t come to a consensus on that issue, so we moved on to the morality of how he supported himself – by stealing from vacation homes and a summer camp facility near his woodland home. Most of us agreed that theft is wrong regardless of the need and the self-imposed limitations on what is taken, although there was one dissenter who thought his actions were acceptable. The majority of our time, though, was spent on the subject of being alone. What was the longest period of time any of us had been alone with no contact or interaction with another person? Most of us had never spent more than 24-48 hours in solitude, much less 27 years – and most of us had no desire to do so.
The fact is that people were created for community. In the creation story in Genesis, the only time God said something was not good was when no suitable partner was found for Adam. God solved the problem by creating Eve so Adam would no longer be alone. Later on, when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments, six out of the ten dealt with how we should treat each other – how to successfully live in society.
Having lived in both large cities and small towns, I feel like the places like Emory do the best job of living out the idea of community. It’s not that we didn’t have friends, and even groups of friends, in the city – it just wasn’t the pervasive community we have found here.
First, we met our neighbors. As we worked on the yard and house to make our little country place habitable, many people stopped by to introduce themselves and to chat. People were curious, but they were also helpful, offering information about available services, lending an extension ladder when David needed a little more height to paint the eaves, and extending an invitation to lunch at the Senior Center.
At the Center, we met more people – a lot more. Many of them have lived here all their lives and are lifelong friends, but they understand the meaning of community and welcome newcomers. As we age, friends and family move away or pass away, and the Center becomes more important for those who find themselves alone. We become family for those who have no one else. We laugh and cry together; we celebrate birthdays and holidays; we check on each other, help each other, and pray for each other.
Although the Senior Center has become an important part of the community to David and me, our church is an even larger part of our lives. Before we were even an official part of the church, several men came and helped move some large pieces of furniture into our house. And after several years of learning, worshiping, and serving together, we are truly part of the family.
As a writer, I spend more time alone than most, but I could never spend 27 years in the woods. Last week I was in Brookshire’s when a lady smiled at me and said, “Shouldn’t you be somewhere writing a book?” I remembered that she and her roommate came to one of my book signings and bought a couple of books. We already had a connection, and we chatted easily for a few minutes. I’m also often asked how Kitty is doing or if we have furniture on our new porch yet. The most special times are when a reader tells me what something I have written means to them – that somewhere, somehow, we have had a meeting of the minds or hearts. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and lives is what community is about, and that’s why it’s not good for us to be alone.