I was always confused by that line in that poem by John Donne. I’m not sure why – I think something about the syntax always throws me off. I mean, once I actually studied the poem senior year (or maybe junior year? Don’t remember now..) I know what “No man is an island” leads up to, and realize that yes, “no man is an island.”
But doesn’t it also sound like there could exist an island called “no man”? *
I like to think that I am independent. I know I have youngest-child tendencies to rely on others and to have this expectation that there will always be someone around older and wiser and more capable of doing things than I am, but I like to think that I am independent enough to be able to survive on my own if necessary.
And I have shown, in the past, that I can do it! I can survive on my own in an unknown place, live by myself, take care of myself, and have close to zero friends and still be a functioning human being. Hooray!
I think, though, that this need and desire to be independent sometimes limits the amount of responsibility and investment I feel about relationships. I think I feel that I should, at any time, be able to get up, run away, escape, and be okay. Okay, that’s probably a really dramatic over-statement, but imagine a statement maybe about 50% of that drama and you get the idea.
So my independence can be a crutch. And I know I’m bad at making friends and at keeping them, and I know I’m bad at caring and empathy, but all this is to say – I’m very grateful for the friends and family who have somehow still kept me in their lives and show me day after day how loved and cared for I am. It’s pretty mind-boggling.
And also somewhat of a relief, because the times I do get to spend with these people remind me that I do need to spend time with others and not just spend all my time floating around my own little island.
* As I was thinking about this, another one of my favorite books came to mind – The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. I was thinking about whether or not they went to the island of “Noman”, but then remembered that they went to the island of Conclusions, where they could only get there by jumping and where they meet Canby, who is as tall as can be, as short as can be, as cowardly as can be, and as courageous as can be. Which is also just as great as an island of Noman. Great, great book.