“Mack” and three of his children went on a camping trip to Wallowa Lake. Stopping on the way at Multnomah Falls, the unthinkable happened. While attending to two of his children who had just overturned their canoe, he left “Missy,” his youngest, alone.
My family and I found “Alone” on Netflix. If you aren’t familiar with the series, and I wasn’t, the title kind of gives it away. To participate, you agree to be dropped off, alone, in a remote place with limited supplies (not including food or water) and the last one to “Tap Out” wins the loot. I guess, normally, the prize is $500,000, but this season, it was a cool $1M. This time, the place was harsher (the Arctic of Northern Canada) and the minimum length of time was longer, 100 days. The participants included both men and women of all shapes, sizes, and strengths. I won’t spoil the results, but the “Podium,” the final three, was quite surprising.
One key to success is in being able to see the end in sight and see it with clear vision. If I were dropped off in the Arctic, before the cold came for its unwelcome stay, I would do everything possible to build my shack or shelter in a manner that appropriate for the temperatures to come. I would certainly assume that my biggest enemies would be the frigid temperatures, lack of food, and bears.
A tarp would do little to protect me from any one of those elements. While we binge watch with the family, snacks in hand, no bears in sight and in a temperature-controlled living room, we see the real enemy arrive at the campsites of the contestants, that enemy is Loneliness. The participants who anticipated that the impact of being alone for so long would affect their motivation and spirit did surprisingly better than those who weren’t prepared, even if they were accomplished outdoorsmen with cult followings.
When Mack returned to the campsite to find Missy missing, his life as he knew it changed forever. The police found Missy’s blood-soaked belongings in an old, abandoned Shack deep into the woods. His loss initiated his real search, not for his daughter, but a more complicated search, a spiritual search. “The Shack” by William Paul Young, 2007, a novel that sold over 10 million copies, fraught with weak doctrine, but valuable nevertheless, has changed lives forever. In “The Shack,” the abduction and death of Missy, began a period that Young called, “The Great Sadness.”
These current times conjure up feelings of Great Sadness for many people. Many in our nation feel that our government doesn’t care about them anymore. We feel that promises made are simpler than actions completed. We see years of concerted and authentic efforts in reconciliation wasted by looking only backwards, as if we haven’t ever moved forward. Many are losing hope.
The pandemic and its variants refuse to go away and add a new division to the populace. Today, we divide as Democrat and Republican; vaccinated or non-vaccinated; Black or White; male, female, or other; any number of faiths divide us. It seems that the longer society persists, the more separated, categorized, judged, or alone we get. We become more divided from one another. It is a great sadness.
In the series “Alone,” it was the loneliness that caused most of the 10 participants to “Tap Out”. As the rescue teams arrived at the camp sites to pick up contestants, the participant gets a moment to explain to the camera crew (and the viewers) why they chose to leave. Vows of renewed appreciation of relationships and personal changes spew from their mouths, not one expresses regret at losing their chance to win $1 million. Their aloneness caused a recalibration of their lives.
Throughout “The Shack,” Mack goes on a personal journey of restoring his faith. The author, when asked, said that the novel was a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain”. I am certain, and I also hope that these times of “Great Sadness” are yielding life changing opportunities for you. A time to clean out the closets of your life and to take truckloads of personal crap to your mental Goodwill. I am experiencing deep, risky, and challenging conversations like never before. My faith is such that I don’t suffer with fear and these times are no threat to the faith that secures my every day.
Friends, we don’t live in unique times. What we are experiencing isn’t new. Many before us have been through the same and far worse.
I want to close with these words that were penned by the author CS Lewis in 1948, just three years after the atomic bombs were dropped. There was incredible anxiety in the world at that time. The world had entered the Atomic Age, and the future was frightening and uncertain, a Great Sadness. One of CS Lewis’s most revered works is called “The Screwtape Letters,” which was written in a satirical narrative. The words below seem intuitively opposite of how most people choose to live their lives today, which makes them more valuable and relevant today.
“How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of chronic pain, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir, or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.
It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about death. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
I think we can all agree that we need CS Lewis today. Ladies and Gentlemen, Chicken Little, the sky is NOT falling today. It’s been falling since the beginning of time. Learn to live, love and rejoice in what you have today. Quit living as if you have what you are trying to avoid. Live a life of freedom because we have hope, and we have a future.
Would Missy have wished that Mack surrender his life because hers was taken? NO. She would have gladly given her life so that her father would cherish the four children he had left. Cherish today what you have, let tomorrow worry for itself. It doesn’t need your help.