"Hell is other people." - Jean-Paul Sartre
This is the mantra, the codex, the thing to say and say again and again upon our 21st century rosary beads. No longer do we begin the prayers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we have adopted what Sartre says in his great play No Exit. We live by those words. Don't get me wrong....the play is poignant, the dialogue striking, and most importantly, he is an artist who crafts a reflection of our society's mindset. But do all of us really think as he does? Should we?
"If only that person were not in my life, I would be free of the shackles that hurt, offend, mock, ridicule or otherwise annoy me."
And so it is that we set up all sorts of filters, some literal, some metaphorical.
"I know what I'll do--I'll block that soul who has scorned me for the last time".....and thanks to gmail and yahoo, we are all set for saying good riddance.
"Hell is other people, for other people hurt us."
This is our superficial understanding, and it is carrying more and more of us to our graves with each passing moment, it would seem. We are dying with lists of those who are untouchables to us, those whom we wished did not exist. And yet, despite all of our walls, booby traps, and blind spots, these who should not be named do exist. In shirking reality and passing over them in our view, we are poisoning our own vision. We systematically close our eyes to various corners occupied by those sad souls, to the point where our own eyes are forced to remain closed all of the time-a sort of inversion of A Clockwork Orange-and we wonder why we have wasted away.
Now please, do not get me wrong. I have stewed in anger in my time, that is for sure, and perhaps I am akin to the choir preaching to the rest of the world. Wishing someone had never come into my life has consumed my soul and I have seen this mantra lived out consistently for periods stretching longer than my own life. I have told myself that I should and would never talk to someone again, after what they had said or done to me. And after those years or moments of retreat and aversion of my eyes, what safety have I gained? None. Instead it has wounded me in ways that I probably haven't even come close to grasping even after hours of introspection and reflection.
But there is something else that has come from this soul searching and meditation, and it is this-there is no pain or trauma that comes close to the searing wound of feeling absolutely nothing at all. I have wrestled with being called names that I will not utter here or anywhere. I have come up with my own names to call others in fits of rage and violence-those too won't be recalled here, there or anywhere. I have made people cry with these concoctions meant to tear down and destroy, these spells of obliteration. But none of that can be compared to the experience of utter disregard. To be in the midst of an abyss, where no one else is concerned with your life or death, that is to be in hell. Hell is to be with no other people. We can only hope and pray that Jean-Paul Sartre did not get what he wanted. For if he envisioned an old hotel room where he was truly alone, no amount of frustration with the flaws in his companions on this sojourn of life would be remembered, when he remembered his isolation and disconnection from this world that was meant to be entangled. The pain that we flee should not be fled--it must be understood in the proper light, not numbed with the correct proportion of neglect, chemicals, or therapy sessions.
In the midst of this murmuring and confusion, I see a voice, and a face. Ironically, he too was named Jean-Paul, though we Americans called him John Paul while he walked among us. He was not only mocked by others, he had his actual flesh ripped open by a bullet which flew into his body. When he saw that man who shot him, he remembered and chose to live by His friend's statement which at times it seems is nonexistent in our world.
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Pope John Paul II was able to meet face to face with the man who tried to end his life. He even said, "pray for my brother, whom I have sincerely forgiven." And we in our pettiness bicker over issues such as who gets what when someone dies, or whether someone approves of our way of living? Oh, the travesty and tragedy...What are you willing to do to end the hell of separation and isolation? What have you created that has barred you from closeness with others?
If you do nothing at all, you may be following the other John Paul, but you will have wound up nowhere as a result.
No man is an island. That thought outweighs any poignant play in a heartbeat, if we would but consider its ramifications.