Me & Erica & Elvira & Eleanor
When I came to the Community I was a hurt and lonely individual. One of the first things I noticed which put me at ease was how everyone was a lot like me. Many of the people there had been through things that had damaged them too. But even though we had all been hurt in different ways, it didn’t separate us; instead I was accepted and as time passed, I came to have many close friends. We lived together, worked together, and stuck together, knowing that we were doing something important, something that no one else was doing on the face of the earth. What I remember experiencing in the Community was a vibrant, open, warm and friendly life, a life that invited others in who wanted to be a part of it.
Along about that first year I remember hearing how the Community was like a Lonely Hearts Club. The idea stuck with me, and over the years I have thought about it a lot. I live in a place where lonely people can come and get over the hurt, the heartache, and the sorrow that they have suffered all their lives. That’s pretty miraculous! After a while, living in the Lonely Hearts Club actually has a way of changing people — we begin to relate to one another again; we start to look one another in the eyes and talk to each other again; we begin to listen to one another and open up about ourselves; we begin to reach out to others like ourselves and eventually a bonding occurs, a warmth that grows between people which unites them together.
When I came I was glad to be a part of a people who had no other reason for living than to be together with the One who had saved them. That was the man Yahshua whom I had heard about and whom I had read a little bit about. But even though I was familiar with who He was, when I came to the Community I found people who He was speaking to daily. They knew him and they knew his voice. At first I thought everyone was just making it up, or that it was just a common way of talking. Someone would share that “the Lord had spoken to them,” or someone else would say “the Lord told me this this morning.” But after a while I realized that He was someone who was in our midst and who did speak. He was alive in a real way, not just mystically “up in heaven", but fleshed out among a people here on earth. I had never experienced that anywhere ever before. It was there in the Community that my loneliness finally came to an end. The empty, dark, lonely void inside of me became filled up with the living spirit of a person who was worth forsaking everything for and following.
Before that, whenever I was alone, I really was totally alone — without God, without hope, without anything to look forward to to change my condition. That loneliness was always around whether I was in the woods, or on the edge of a mountain cliff looking off over the forest and hills below, or along the edge of the ocean dodging in and out of the waves; whether I was in a park, or whether I was at a lake side, or running or reading or even sharing a bowl of dope, sitting in a circle on the floor with all my friends. Sure, there was a circle of friendship, a fellowship for a few minutes, but after that, the effects of the dope took over and everyone splintered off into little conversations to talk about his favorite subject. I found trying to converse so difficult, it was much easier for me to retreat and just be alone. I’d listen to the music and think and get lost in my thoughts, following them willy nilly wherever they ran, without any hope of ever being able to communicate them to anyone else, or even share what those thoughts made me feel.
I remember one time in college, walking down the stone pavement between two of the buildings and facing the choice of going either right or left at the end of the path. In that instant it seemed as though I had been there doing that very same thing many times before. I felt stuck. A hopelessness rose up inside that made me feel that I might end up walking around the block and coming back to this same place over and over again forever. Almost immediately I began to think that life wasn’t any different either — even though I could make choices like going right or left, I was still hopelessly trapped on a meaningless way, stuck on a course that was impossible to break free from. To me that was the loneliest feeling of all.
There was always some of that loneliness around. Whether I was high or I wasn’t, it was ever present. Part of it had to do with the social atmosphere of college. That became really apparent to me at the end of our senior year, on the very last day when we all said good bye to each other. It was clear to me then that our four years of being together had only been a coincidence. We weren’t going to go on and do anything more as a group of people. I ached at the thought of having to separate from people I had gone through deep experiences with, but there was something stronger than the love we had which was pulling us apart. Some were going home to their parents, some were heading to summer jobs or travel, some were feeling the need to get ready for graduate school in the fall. All those meaningful relationships that I had cherished in college were, in reality, just temporary ones — nothing more. Nothing lasting. Nothing had cemented us together. Nothing could hold us beyond graduation day. If I had only seen that earlier I could have probably understood why going to college was such a lonely life.
I’m sure that’s why we all felt such a desperate need to find someone of the opposite sex to have a relationship with. What other hope was there of having someone to share things with who wouldn’t leave when it was convenient and who would stick with you when times got rough?
When I met her I was nineteen. I was a film major and I had just gotten my first real opportunity to make a film for the psychology department. Even though things were going along pretty well, I was still lonely and wanted to share my life with someone. It all started when she said she was really unhappy. I asked, “Why?” and she said, “Because my boyfriend no longer loves me.” So I said, “Well, I do.” And so our relationship began with that in the background. It was there the whole time and we could never really get free from it the whole time we were in love with each other. That was a hard thing — having to compete with someone else for her affections. It was hard to truly know which one of us meant more to her. At times I believed she loved me more and then, at other times it was evident she still had ties to her first boyfriend. She wavered back and forth, full of indecisiveness. It was painful for her to choose between us, whether to spend the time with me and see what might develop, or to be with her other boyfriend, remembering what the past was like and not knowing if it possibly might work again. She was torn between the two of us and wasn’t willing to give either one up. Time after time she came face to face with the same dilemma. It intensified things so much that it made her life like a tragic drama. Even the best times we had were filled with a lot of friction and unfulfilled moments and strife. It all seemed so unnecessary.
Finally, when spring break came around, I asked her to stay with me for the vacation. She said that her uncle in California had invited her out for a visit. I said, “If you go to California, we might as well stop seeing each other.” She couldn’t decide what to do. I waited for her to make up her mind, but she couldn’t. Finally I said I would make the decision. I told her we should end it now and I walked away.
After that the loneliness multiplied a thousand fold. Life was so empty, not having someone to love. I had gotten used to being with her, and now she wasn’t around. It left a big hole in my existence and drove me to the edge of despair. I wondered why? Why does life have to be so sad? What is the use of living if life is always going to be this way? What is the use of going on? The worse thing was that there really weren’t any answers. There really wasn’t any help even from my friends. They saw me go through the whole thing, but I couldn’t communicate to them about it and they didn’t know what to say either. I wasn’t really honest enough to open up to anyone and I really didn’t have anyone to open up to. It all got internalized and buried and seethed inside of me for weeks.
During that time I tried to listen to music or read. Mainly I tried to get through it as if it were a normal thing. Still the pain was there. I started to think about going away, going somewhere. I thought about trying to find a new life, maybe in Europe, maybe in Sweden, maybe in the middle of the ocean, or maybe by jumping off a building.
That’s when I started to think about the agony the Son of God experienced. It was all because of the hurt and the betrayal and the emptiness and the loneliness that I was feeling inside that made me start to think about Him. I felt like somehow He could identify with that. I even felt like I could identify a little with what He had faced. I felt that even though there wasn’t any help from all my friends, there was help from that man who had died, betrayed and lonely and abandoned on a cross. That’s when I came to realize that His story was not just a myth from centuries ago that people had made up to make them feel good and to give them the courage to face life’s ills, but it was really the truth.
The shock of finding something true got me through those days. I came to believe that after His death He had gone to hell, and after He had gone to hell He had come back to life. And also the most amazing thing — He was still alive! That’s when it dawned on me. Here is someone very much alive and very real whom I could get help from. I knew I deserved hell for all the things I had done, but somehow I felt He would help the Father understand about my life and that somehow I could now go on and start to be different. I felt comforted and began to try to find out more about Him. This was the beginning of something which lasted for a couple of years until I met the people who had been gathered together in the Community. That was where I found others who had gone through things like I had and who knew the one whom I had started to think about.
In the meantime, though, I continued making films and watching them. It was one of the easiest ways to escape the emptiness that filled my week ends and week nights. All I had to do was get high and go to a flick and lose myself for a few hours. It worked every time, until I saw a film named Elvira Madigan. It reawakened all the old hurts and scars inside me and caused me to examine my life again. In the weeks that followed, it was hard to shake the hopeless, lonely feeling that that film left me with.
One evening the ringmaster of a circus troupe discovers that his beautiful tight rope dancer is missing. Where is she? Earlier that day the captain of a Swedish cavalry lines up his officers for roll and one of them doesn’t answer the call. He isn’t there. Where is he?
Lying in each other’s arms, childlike and innocent in their love, they are napping beneath the shade of a great old tree at the edge of a flower filled meadow. They lie so still, it almost looks like they are dead. But then with a yelp he hurtles himself to his feet and runs and somersaults through the tall grass. A bee has bitten his bottom! Both are awake now, and they begin to laugh and kiss. “Are you happy?” he asks. “Yes,” she answers.
Soon they are chasing small butterflies through the field, trying to sneak up on and capture the delicate insects in their cupped hands. I watch them running in slow motion, her long blond hair adrift, the loose white sleeves of his shirt moved by an invisible breeze. For seconds the only sound there is is silence. And then the piano notes from Mozart’s plaintive melody begin. For a brief second I imagine that it might be Erica and me. Then reality hits with a stab of bitter sweet despair. Erica is gone. I am alone in a theater, sitting a row behind my roommate and his girlfriend.
“Are they happy?” I wonder. Is being in love enough to make someone happy? At the end of the film, I have my answer. He is holding her in his arms, she is so weak and faint from hunger. As she looks the other way he tries to shoot her but can’t. His heart is breaking. He knows there is no other choice. Their love cannot go on. Anguish lines his face. As she leaves his side to chase a butterfly across the meadow he looks at her full of despair. Then a shot rings out. The film stops. She stands motionless, about to cup the little creature in her hands. There is silence for a moment ... then a second shot.
A sober crowd files with me out the exit toward the street. A hopeless feeling wells up inside me, along with pangs of loneliness and bitterness. Even love isn’t enough to make people happy. Is there no way, then, to be happy? An angry resolve starts to form within my soul — I will be happy! No matter what it takes! With that I set my course. But it didn’t take long to find out that ... there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.[fn]Proverbs 16:25[/fn]
She lived and died in a song, one of the lonely people from the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. She and I were a lot alike: she went to the Lonely Hearts Club to hear the band play; I went to the movies to lose myself in stories from far away places and the romance of great adventure. Around me were all the other lonely people sitting in the darkness nearby. We never really conversed or talked about anything. We only shared the common experience of seeing a movie together.
What kept Eleanor and me so distant and separate from other human beings? Mostly our guilt. I felt ashamed of the things I was doing, things that went against what I knew was right. I was continually getting high or drunk; I wasn’t studying; anything I drove, I drove recklessly, not caring what might happen; I used women and had many homosexual friends; I lied, shoplifted, and was very vulgar. I was selfish, arrogant, lawless, and worthless. I lived in a privileged place where little was expected of me and two blocks away men came home to ghetto rooms after working all day by the sweat of their brows. Even though I often knew the right thing to do, I usually wound up in situations manipulating others, trying to get my way, fulfilling my needs without any regard to anyone else. Little wonder I was so worthless I could barely look a dog in the eyes, let alone another human being.
Eleanor and I and all the lonely people were like children running through a field of tall grain, heading full speed toward a cliff. Near the edge was a man who was trying desperately to catch us. I was running along so giddily, I barely felt his strong arms stop me, seconds away from destruction. I had no idea of the fearsomeness of death, nor the awful destruction that was before me. It was the “catcher’s” mercy that I hadn’t died with my guilt and the burden of my trespasses still on me. My life was spared and I was brought to the best of all Lonely Hearts Clubs, an environment where healing takes place and lonely people are loved.
It’s a wonderful thing to be married now and have a family and friends. It’s also wonderful to be a part of something that just isn’t going to end one day when everyone says good bye and goes their own way like that last day of college. We have something we are willing to die for, something we’re willing to risk everything and abandon everything for. It’s something that’s so supremely important, it makes the giving up of our lives small in comparison. This purpose restores us from the effects of our selfishly directed, self seeking lives that we pursued so recklessly. We’ve been set free from living lonely, inconsequential lives.
Loneliness is profound and its effects on people go deep. Whether you mask it over or fantasize it away, whether you blame it on the defects of society or probe into the deepest parts of your being to find your own defects, none of these ways will ever bring you true healing. None of these are the answer to getting back to the right way of living with all your heart with other human beings. We need to be set free from all the masks and all the barriers that divide us from others. And we need to see the hostility and hatred that separates us removed before we can truly love each other. This happens in the Community of the Savior, the “Catcher,” the Son of God, Yahshua. There, there’s the kind of life that Eleanor never found, and the Beatles never found, and Elvira Madigan never found, and Erica never found, and all my friends in school never found. And yet it is coming to be, and it’s coming to be found by more and more people. And the desperate ones and the lonely ones and the strangers and the hurt ones can all come and find their home in it.