A teenage girl stands on her back porch breaking glass jars and cutting her own skin. Trying to cut her way “through the hurt down to the core of things” (11). Trying to end the pain of her heart.
A man sits alone in a cold cell, isolated from those he loves, those who love him.
Ann Voskamp was the girl on the porch. She had suffered the death of her younger sister, which devastated their family.
Natan Sharansky was the man in the cell. He was a Jew in the Soviet Union, a refusenik, a prisoner of the KGB. His jailers hoped to cultivate the Stockholm Syndrome within him. That happens when a victim connects with his captors. Trust grows. Secrets spill. Injustice finds new prey.
Voskamp had no one to trust with the pain within her. Sharansky fought to stay connected to those he loved and trusted, if only in his heart and mind. He worked hard not to trust the untrustworthy KGB.
There’s an odd irony in saying that Voskamp and Sharansky are not alone.
In 1985, ten percent of Americans were completely alone in their lives–no confidants, no one to count on. By 2009, that number had grown to 25 percent. Stephen Ilardi calls this nation “perilously isolated.”
And it’s not a problem confined to America. In 2014, an EU survey deemed Britain “the loneliness capital of Europe.” And it isn’t a problem just for those who live alone.
Rebecca Harris: “So why are we getting lonelier? Changes in modern society are . . . the cause. We live in nuclear family units, often living large distances away from our extended family and friends, and our growing reliance on social technology rather than face to face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated. It means we feel less connected to others and our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding.”
More superficial. Less rewarding. Virtual reality gives us virtual connections and produces virtual lives. A virtual life does not contain relationships that can heal our hurts.
We are less real on social media. But sometimes we are too real. We say things to our screens we would never say to someone’s face.
The venom we exuded in the recent election makes us unapproachable to someone smarting from defeat.
If we won, we don’t care. It’s our turn. We build walls against the pain of others. We prove ourselves unworthy of their trust.
If we lost, bitterness can grow inside us. And with it, we build a wall to keep others out. But the wall keeps hurt inside, and we look for ways to let it out.
Voskamp: “Who doesn’t know what it’s like to smile thinly and say you’re fine when you’re not, when you’re almost faint with pain?” (11-12)
We can show others the understanding we have yearned for ourselves. We can be worthy of trust.
When we do, we can tear down walls of bitterness, walls of pain.
And then we can rebuild with good once more.