The summer before last I spent a few months in Harlan, Kentucky working with an organization called Adventures in Missions. I basically led youth missions trips and set up ministry opportunities for them and facilitated their trips. It was a few weeks into the job and I was just starting to get the hang of it and was feeling comfortable with the friends I had made there. After those first couple of weeks, however, there was going to be a week when no youth groups were coming. All of my co-workers with whom I had grown so close over those first few weeks were going to be gone for that week. But I was unable to go home for that week, since I lived 20-something hours away from Harlan. I had been enjoying reading a few books while I was there, so I thought that a week of solitude might be good for me. After all, taking care 70-something hormone driven teenagers and 12-exasperated youth pastors per week takes a lot out of you. In all honesty, I was pretty excited for the opportunity to be alone for a week.
As I watched all of my friends drive out of the parking and out of site, however, a powerful feeling of loneliness swept over me. Everything was quiet. No Donnie strumming on his guitar… no Addie telling funny stories… no Anna laughing at her funny stories… no Ben looking at everything in a positive light. I was all… alone. I decided to try to read a book until I got bored with it. When I got to that point, I looked up at the clock and to my despair I realized that only about 14 minutes had passed.
Something I had been taking for granted had been taken away, and I missed it. Before long, I think I literally started to go crazy. I tried calling every contact on my phone – they were all busy. I went on Facebook looking for someone to chat with… no luck. Eventually I began talking to myself – I’m not kidding – just trying to break the deafening silence. Panicked, I looked over at the clock; it had been 54 minutes since they left. “Great. Only 167 hours and four minutes to go.”
I craved human interaction. I ended up going over to grocery store just to be around people. Just being in the presence of other people… breathing the same oxygen… hearing their voices… studying their facial expressions… it soothed me. I started a few insignificant conversations with grocery baggers and fellow shoppers, but even those apparently meaningless conversations helped me to keep my sanity.
The rest of that week passed slowly and I got pretty bored and almost had a panic attack on many occasions… but it was good for me. You never the value of something that you always have until that thing is taken away. When Donnie and Addie and Ben and Anna came back, I was more happy to see them than I have ever been to see anyone else! I think I learned something that week that I think everybody knows, but rarely thinks about: humans were created to be relational beings.
Recently a Standard Operating Procedures [SOP] manual for Guatanamo Bay was leaked to the public and picked up by newspapers such as the Miami Herald and the New York Times. There is a practice detailed in that manual that describes a particular method of torture. When prisoners would arrive at the camp, some of them would be sent into isolation chambers for the first four weeks of their stay at Gautanomo. They were given only the most basic comfort items… a blanket, a bar of soap, toothpaste (no toothbrush – they had to use their fingers). They were allowed absolutely no human interaction, and they were not allowed to have any reading materials or things to keep themselves occupied. Eventually what would happen was that the prisoners’ minds would grow soft and they became more and more desperate for human interaction until finally… when four weeks had passed, they brought them out of their cells and immediately proceeded to interrogate them. It worked like a charm, and they would tell their interrogators everything they wanted to know.
Judging by how nutzo I felt after only 54 minutes of solitude in Kentucky, I think I would have spilled too. I don’t know exactly how, what, or why, but it is obvious that there is something within all of us that craves for human interaction.