I thought about how many people I have known. Then it occurred to me that relationships happen at a whole bunch of levels, from passive and superficial to active and deep.
I have seen millions of people milling around like ants. Examples would be Tokyo subway stations, Mardi Gras crowds between parades, rock concerts before the show starts. Oh yeah, millions and millions in 55 years.
I have seen millions of people wheeling in formation like flocks of birds. They are full of purpose. Yet the purpose may be hidden or not very relevant to me. Examples include antiwar protests, parades, crowds cheering a team, a sport, a singer.
I have seen thousands of people (many thousands) like deer in the woods. They are alone or in small groups. If they see me at all they respond cautiously. I have only the vaguest sense of what has brought them to this spot and what will take them away again.
I have seen thousands of people just as I might see monkeys in the zoo: playing, interacting, sleeping, waiting, and none of it really involves me the spectator.
I have joined with thousands of people as a participant in cheering, worshipping, protesting, or playing in large groups.
I have talked one on one or in small groups with thousands of people. We have told each other stories. We laugh. We listen. We care, but we are careful how much we show it.
I have talked very seriously with hundreds of people. We have shared our problems. We have explored our beliefs. We have confessed our failures.
The Lord knows how many people I have argued with. I am afraid to think of it.
I have shared meals, really shared, with hundreds of people. We sat at a table or on the ground. We passed the food. Sometimes we thanked God for it.
I have embraced many dozens of people. Sometimes it was a full strong hug. Sometimes it was a quick arm around a shoulder. Sometimes there was tension. Sometimes there was a wonderful sense of peace.
I have wept with dozens of people. I cried or my heart was touched by their weeping. Sometimes it was for a brief moment. Sometimes it was only a couple of times in a lifetime of knowing that person. My father cried in my presence only twice that I can remember. The same is true for my mother. My wife and I have wept together many times. My children, my friends, my coworkers, my brothers and sisters in the Lord have wept with me or me with them. Sometimes we hold each other or at least touch.
There are less than a dozen people that I have nursed when they were ill or who have tended to me at such times. Seldom have I cleaned others or cleaned up after they vomited, sweated, or lost control of bowel or bladder. Most of those times were with my children. I want to love many people enough to do such things for them. However, the truth is that I almost always avoid it if possible.
I have only helped to care for one person’s lifeless body. My father died in his sleep at a family reunion. I helped to move his body and zip it into the body bag. I helped lift it onto a gurney and rolled it to the coroner’s SUV. My father was gone. Only his body remained.
Relationships happen at a whole bunch of levels, from passive and superficial to active and deep. Without them I would be nothing worth mentioning.