A young friend of mine recently said he had heard someone say that hell is other people. I told him that I had heard that before and believe that it is a quote from the French existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre. Now, despite the efforts of some good schools and brilliant professors, I am not a very well-educated person. And I never studied philosophy. However, I explained to my friend that I believe Sartre was not saying other people are demons. I believe he was saying that if we permit ourselves to be in relationships with others that do not validate us, then our internalization of the ways they respond to us will be hell.
So stop believing that other people are your hell. You are your hell. I told my friend you should not ask, “Why did she do that to me? Why does she treat me that way?” The question you should ask is, “Why did I let her do that to me? Why did I let her treat me that way”?
Other people are not hell. Other people are heaven. God created each of us in his own image and He is there in each of us. Admittedly He is harder to find in some than in others.
When I moved to Meadows of Dan I was divorced and retired. I was not only retired but I was tired. I did not make an effort to become a part of the community. I have never been very social. I was a stranger. I was an unknown. I understood that the people who live here, or “up on the mountain” as the flatlanders say, are a hardy, resilient, and very private people.
Early on I made inquiry of an old woman from whom I bought some daylilies. I asked, “Will it be difficult for me to be accepted here?” She thought a while and then replied, “I married a man who was not from around here. We lived here until he died twenty years later. Everyone always referred to him as the foreigner.” Thinking he must have been from Turkey or Algeria, I asked, “Where was he from?” Her answer: “South Carolina.”
OK. That was it. I didn’t really try. It’s not in my nature, anyway. Then one day a few months after I had back surgery, I drove to the country store to buy two chairs. You know, those sturdy oak Amish rockers. My wife’s parents were coming to visit for a campfire cookout down in the woods. I didn’t think they would be very comfortable sitting on the stumps or the few strategically placed boulders.
I paid the young woman at the cash register and then asked her to have a couple of the boys who worked there to put the chairs in the back of my truck. She said, “The boys are all gone. There is no one here but me. Give me a minute to lock the cash register and I will help you load them.”
About ten minutes later, she had one side of a heavy chair, I had the other side, and we were slowly making our way across the parking lot to my pickup truck when we heard a local Christmas tree farmer yell out, “Stop. Stop. Put that down. Let me help. I’ll get it.” The girl and I sat the chair down immediately, and as he ran up to us, she said, “Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” he said. “I was talking to him. He just had back surgery. You pick up the chair. Let’s go.”
On another occasion I was climbing into my truck at a garage where a local mechanic had just completed the required annual inspection. “If there is anything else you need, just let me know.”
“I think all of my vehicles are up-to-date, but thanks anyway.”
“No. That’s not what I mean. If you need a sofa moved or something heavy loaded, just call me. I’ll come do it.”
Last week I went to have my hair washed. Yes, I indulge myself once a week. I haven’t been walking too well recently. X-rays show severe arthritis in the left hip.
As I was getting out of the car, the woman who owned the shop came running out to me. Apparently, she had been standing at the door, watching and waiting for me. She put her arm around me and said, “Now you put your arm around me, and we will walk in together.”
Just a few days ago a local woman made a quilt for me. It’s a beautiful quilt. It is a gift that took her many hours of work. It was a gift money didn’t buy, a gift money couldn’t buy. It made me cry.
All of my life I have given to others and helped others out of gratitude because I have been so blessed. I have so much more than I need. But I have always refused help from others. I have always felt like the lines in Wayne’s World: “I am not worthy. I am not worthy.” I was just lucky.
But my wife, the smartest person I have ever known, has been changing my attitude. She tells me, “You are worthy, but I know you will never believe that. So, what I want you to remember is that when you let other people help you, that makes them feel good. It makes them feel just a little closer to God. Don’t let your macho ego deny them that feeling. You are a better man than that. You are strong enough to be vulnerable. Help them. Help them by allowing them to help you.”
So, as I told my young friend, hell is not other people. Heaven is other people. Hell is you. To paraphrase a famous song: Think. Think. Think about what you are trying to do to you…