Last fall I read a NY Times article that rattled my cage and has stayed with me since that then. The piece was entitled The Lonely Death of George and it chronicled the death and retrospectively the life of the aforementioned, the lone occupant of a dishevelled apartment in the largest city in the US.
(you can read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/nyregion/dying-alone-in-new-york-city.html?_r=0)
The precis-version goes like this: Mr. Bell was a single, retired man, who lived in such relative isolation that his life could go on for months and even years without anyone checking in, anyone much bothering with him, or him with anyone else. To the point even that he could pass away in complete obscurity.
And the tragic and terrible part of it all is that he’s not alone. In fact, as the article highlights, in NYC alone there is an actual team of workers whose full time jobs with the city is to enter into these types of situations, homes, apartments, to clean up, sort and sell-off personal effects. All because there’s no one else to do it. The writer of the article points out, “Each year around 50,000 people die in New York, and each year the mortality rate seems to graze a new low, with people living healthier and longer. A great majority of the deceased have relatives and friends who soon learn of their passing and tearfully assemble at their funeral. A reverent death notice appears. Sympathy cards accumulate. When the celebrated die or there is some heart-rending killing of the innocent, the entire city might weep.
A much tinier number die alone in unwatched struggles. No one collects their bodies. No one mourns the conclusion of a life. They are just a name added to the death tables. In the year 2014, George Bell, age 72, was among those names.”
All of this screams in the face of the basic human need – I contend, God-given need – for relationship and community.
Alright, from newspaper back to film. There’s a powerful scene in The Martian that brought all of this flooding back to mind for me. It’s a moment in the film where it’s evident that Mark Watney’s solitary confinement on the red planet has come to an end one way or another. He has boarded a space vessel that will hopefully propel him through Mars’ atmosphere, into space to be reunited with his former crew mates. This of course, is an intensely emotional moment for Watney where, as engines throttle up tears stream down his face in anticipation of no longer being alone, after being practically-speaking devoid of community for many hundreds of days.
From the very beginning of the Scriptures we find God’s declaration, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” From the Bible’s story we discover that we have been created in the very image and likeness of God. And that has every bit as much to do with the reflection of our Creator who has always existed, in community and relationship with one another; Father, Son, and Spirit.
Community, relationship, togetherness face unprecedented challenges in our day. Not only has our need for them not diminished, it may just be that we are hungering for connection all the more. May we be careful and deliberate not to devolve into Martian living but instead dive deeply into community with others pursuing Jesus.