Observations: Someone to lean on

Published on: June 9, 2011

Mitch Traphagen Photo

Mitch Traphagen Photo


We all need someone we can lean on. No man is an island. From philosophers to poets to the Rolling Stones, that message has been true for as long as people have walked this earth.

I spent the weekend on my boat at Little Harbor Marina and watched the tourists come and go. Most were couples, young and old, walking hand in hand to the beach, the lounge, or the restaurant. They were all walking upright, of course, but I could see that most were leaning upon each other. Everyone has their own dreams and ambitions, but what makes life…well, life is having someone who believes in your dreams and helps to make them come true.

There is so much anger today over politics, the economy, the price of gas, and the increasing cost of food. Life is rife with problems and scary stuff. Having someone who wants to hold your hand makes it all less scary and more manageable. No man is an island — none of the people I saw last weekend was in it alone. They had someone to lean on.

When it all comes right down to it, is the anger and angst worth it? If the world ended tomorrow, would you still be angry that it cost $80 to fill up your car, or would you realize that $80 doesn’t really matter? Wouldn’t you be filled with the awareness that what matters is the person holding your hand, helping you through times both good and bad? There is nothing in this world — not the price of gas or lousy politicians — that trumps having someone to laugh or cry with. Nothing.
No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne wrote those words in 1624; and seven years later, the bells tolled for him. He is gone, never to walk this earth again. As a society, we have his words but we don’t have him. We can’t know him. But the words he wrote 387 years ago remain true today. Someday the bells will toll for me, for you, and for your spouse. Is anger, greed, selfishness or being a downright jerk worth it? Are the people who possess all of that negativity worth worrying about? When the bell tolls for thee, money and pride are of little value.

I think one of the big problems today is a lack of clarity of purpose. Most of us don’t really struggle to survive, and thus, the clarity of living has become diffused. Almost every day I receive an email from someone blasting this politician or that with stories that are almost always entirely untrue. That is misdirected rage. The more we know, the more information we have access to, the less clear life seems to be.

I went to school with a kid who marched to his own drummer. Naturally, for that he was picked on mercilessly (I certainly hope and pray that I wasn’t among them). Today he is a successful playwright living in New York City. Is he famous or rich? Probably not, but he is making it in a business where few people do. I shared his story with my sister recently and she remarked that I was speaking wistfully of him. To get where he is today, he certainly struggled mightily by working temporary jobs and being everywhere he didn’t want to be to reach his goal. Meanwhile, I’ve been blessed beyond belief. I have this wonderful job at The Observer, I was a senior staff member for a U.S. Congressman. I have worked for successful companies that treated me well. Yet I’m more than just wistful when thinking about my friend from school — I’m wildly jealous. He set out to get somewhere, and he made it while I just lucked and stumbled into my life. I envy his clarity.

He has a group of friends now — real friends. He has a woman he can depend upon to share his dream. Together they made it work. If the adolescent morons that picked on him all those years ago had even a shred of intelligence, they would have been asking him for advice on how to live their own lives. I certainly wish I had done that. I think he has some of the answers.

The bells are tolling as I write these words. Down the street, across town, people are both celebrating and mourning life. They are looking for someone they can lean on. Give that some thought the next time you get ready to spew obscenities at the guy who cut you off in traffic or the one who jumped in front of you in line at the grocery store. You don’t know what bells they may be hearing. Try to remember that they do toll for all of us.

No one wants to be an island; no one should be. If you can look across the room and see the man or woman that you can lean on, put away the fear, rage and frustration. Gas prices and politicians don’t matter, but the person sitting across from you does, the one who knows when to hold your hand. Together you’ll be just fine.