Our deepest need

We had a deaf person join keiko (kendo practice session) today. He had dropped by to talk to the sensei near the end of the last year, and as he had promised, he started on the very first Wednesday keiko with us. With what little ASL I knew, I tried to communicate in a very basic way. He was very appreciative that I was at least attempting to sign his language. “I (am) nice (to) meet you.” My feeble attempt was with some boldness, and “I (am) nice (to) do kendo meet you” was done with a slight embarrassment at the fact that I was too slow to read his sign to me. I only caught his thanks, and merely bowed reverently as a response. I couldn’t remember the sign for “glad,” but he seemed to have gotten the message anyway. I was glad that he appreciated, and also that he understood me. We connected, albeit awkwardly, and it was satisfying.

What we often take for granted is this very basic need to connect with others. Obviously, connecting with others means that you understand and they understand you, but I goof up more often than I’d like to assume about myself. I excel at diving in when the other has yet to finish his sentence. I excel at believing myself to be a superhuman with a telepathic ability, so I’m amazingly quick at knowing what the other person thinks before he has even formed his mind or even utter a single word from it. There was more than one meeting after which I felt a form of remorse over what I had done, and in spite of such profound grief, it’s a hard habit to shatter. Over the years, I’ve learned that a humble heart is awfully needed to be any good at this game, and though hard to admit, and even often feel it to the bones, it’s something I probably lack. I’m too self-occupied with glorious thoughts that exalts themselves over and above all other possible thoughts in this universe. This at an expense of an appetite that is kept at bay from being satisfying. An appetite to connect more deeply with others. Whatever it is, it’s probably already dead by now, or has turned into a monstrous zombie with an appetite for human flesh.

There seems to be a type of innate fear, or an acute sense of mistrust, when I’m in a dialogue with a person. It’s usually a reciprocating mistrust of assuming the other person does not have my best interest in mind, or it’s more likely an unconscious assumption that the other person is as selfish as me. Sadly, I resort to Pavlov and assume the dignity of a dog to mention that I’ve been conditioned to assume this more often when a person I’m speaking to is an older male figure. And that usually means a person of authority. Should I invoke Freudian or Jungian theories at this point? And try to find correlating experiences of my childhood? It’s also probably warranted, knowing the obvious, but I decline to reaffirm the infirmities of a broken family life, as it usually is greeted with all-too-familiar taciturn nod of acknowledgment. For so many of us, life is a series of heart-breaking narratives, most sliding down on a declining slope. I just don’t know what to do. It’s like an automatic gearbox in my emotional nerve system, once past certain speed, it automatically goes into a modus operandi of mistrust. Mistrust begets mistrust, and the cycle of mediocre relationship continues. But, I can’t stop trying.

It’s been so many years ago, I don’t remember when it was exactly, but my wife answered the call and was left in a small shock. A friend who had graduated from the same Bible school had come out of the closet. He was kind enough to make a phone call to us and let us know. I guess it was a turning point in his life. He was more of a friend to my wife, but I knew of his existence and even met him with my wife in two different occasions. He was a handsome, blonde guy with an intelligence that far exceeds any average smart person. He had a knack of acquiring any language, including ASL in an amazingly short amount of time. He was conversant in Korean only after few months of studying it himself with a helper. I think he also taught himself Japanese and went to Japan to teach English. Most of English teachers I know who go to either Japan or Korea take years to learn those languages. He seems to just eat them up like sweet, little cheesecakes. Anyway, intelligence aside, why such lifestyle? I knew he was traveling around the world a lot for his work — so much so in fact that he said that he sometimes didn’t know where he was, and he was sick of sightseeing new places at one point. I don’t want to assume too much, but seeing some of my own friends, approaching a mid-life stage as an unmarried person seems to have a type of unsettling effect on a person. As far as I know, he seemed to be a Christian when he was younger, but life seems to have changed him. How? I really don’t know. But could it be the same human need? The need for a deep relationship. A need to connect with another human being at more than a superficial level. I remember reading about my own personality type many years ago, and it spoke of a great hunger to connect at such a profound level that other personality types often freak out. This, I can relate to.

It may or may not have anything to do with our friend’s decision, but it’s that very hunger that drives so many to despair or ecstasy of life. The intuitive feeling one has of this relational destination is that of an ideal spiritual union. It’s as if you want even the pulse of your own thoughts and heartbeats to be shared with the other. If you want to label it a hackneyed Platonic relationship, so be it. It can be quite overwhelming from a receiving end, especially if the other is clueless about the personality that is desiring this. I heard someone try to simply label it as a puppy love, or even a romantic love stage, described in neurobiological framework where a surge of dopamine is deemed culprit. A dopey teen love isn’t exactly where I’m going with this, but I admit that similar chemical reactions may be happening when hormones are pumping in our bodies. However, I hope it’s a common, intuitive human need that we can all relate to. I’d like to simply phrase it as an innate need to connect with another human being at a much deeper level. Even God acknowledged it when He said, “It isn’t good for a man to be alone,” and then proceeded to create the first woman, as a helper to the first-created person, namely, the first man. She was and, figuratively, still is biologically, psychologically, and spiritually compatible to another man. But, in this day and age of toxicity in the guise of tolerance, pluralism and human rights, we ourselves have made enemies out of ourselves by abandoning this multidimensional compatibility for a cheap, one-dimensional, superficial equality. When everything is interpreted in a wild-wild-west that is the Freudian sexual framework, the courtship is now reinterpreted as sexual advances, and the innate desire for a man to lead in a courtship is now labeled as being chauvinistic, or even worse, patriarchal — when did that word even become a derogatory term anyway? Don’t let me guess whether the chicken or the egg came first, but men in our society also have lost the moral leadership. It’s not too hard to spot hyenas laughing their heads off over their latest steal or over-the-hill guy spewing mysogynistic words in this wild-wild-west society. I dare not to offset the onus of responsibility for sins we commit, but for the same reason we allow some leeway for thieves stealing to feed their poor families, I’d prefer to understand first, as a same, fallible human being, but still loath the sin. We’re all flawed human beings, so this hunger, left unchecked, can be very dangerous. And it’s that dangerous because it’s like a river — it can kill when it overtops its banks. God made those banks there for a sustainable life.

So, what’s with this undercurrent of insatiable need inside of us? Is God pulling some type of joke on us? Was He mad? I think the answer is pretty simple. That was installed there to drive us to God. I’m merely echoing the writings in Pansee by Pascal here, but allow me to continue to simply speak from my own experience. I know so, because I’ve been married for over 20 years, and although I’d like to say more flowery things about marriage, the truth is that your spouse ain’t the destination of this channel. If you aren’t careful, and you’re still a foolish teenager, you’ll seek out another person, thereby making fool of yourself and many a lifetime victim of your foolishness. This drive wasn’t put in for another human being, but it was intended for a relationship with the Person, whom all the other persons that ever walked on the face of this green earth were created to take after. It’s no wonder why it’s so easy to have our eyes earth-bound. It’s merely easier to spot a cheap imitation. It required a special revelation through many special persons to let us know that it’s Him, our Creator, that our hearts have been seeking all this time. The closest thing is probably like a reconciling with your father who has been alienated for so many years. Our earthly fathers are full of holes, but He isn’t. He is reliable, trustworthy, and so powerful and almighty, that even a nuclear bomb wouldn’t be able to defeat him. He can flatten Mt. Everest in a blink of an eye if He wanted to. You can continue to read what he’s capable of in the Bible, starting with the book of Genesis, chapter 1. The point is, we can have an intensely, close personal relationship with this living God, the Father. So, why is it so hard to approach him? Have you spoken to him lately? Bible says that although He hates sin and wouldn’t have anything to do with it — not even come close to it — He promises to be very close to a person who admits his fault, and cries over his wrongdoings. This is the very reason why He sent His own Son to die in place of us, because we deserved to die for our sins. The moment that I had experienced that as a 14 year-old was the moment that I knew my life has been fulfilled.  The emotion was what C.S. Lewis had described as being surprised by joy, an overflowing joy at that.

So, there. Sin, Jesus Christ, and God, have everything to do with this built-in, nagging sense of connectivity installed in us. It’s the answer as revealed by God himself through the Bible, and the choice is yours to accept it. Henri Nouwen, a very thoughtful priest, once warned against neglecting your local church. Don’t get me started with all the flaws of a church. I’m still struggling in there, with a spiritual ulcer to bust me out of it at any day, but as Nouwen had stated, you want to be listening to the church, because the Lord of the church still speaks through it in spite of all of its glorious flaws. As long as you know where this river is headed, don’t get your expectation too high for other flawed humans being like you at your local church. Love them just enough to gasp at you — with no expectation of returned favor. Remember, God loved us first.