Monday, March 01, 2010

Lost sheep

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4).

Few things are worse in life than losing your way. I expect most of us lack the experience of what it means to be truly lost. For most of us, to be lost is to take the wrong turn in a strange city.

But that’s a nuisance–nothing more. We know that sooner or later we will find our way back. The only thing we really lost was time. We’re wasting time. Running late. Because we have to double back. Go in circles until we regain our bearings.

A paradigm-case is a lost child. Of course, in most instances, he isn’t really lost. He just feels lost. Momentarily separated from his parents.

Young children live in their own fantasy world. Easily preoccupied. Self-absorbed, they wander off. As long as they remain within earshot or eyeshot of their parents, they feel secure.

But sometimes, after having gone off on their own, they suddenly become aware of the fact that their parents are nowhere to be seen. That they are truly alone–in a strange world. Instant terror greets them.

Although this is something we normally associate with childhood, the same fears and insecurities can recur in old age, when many people feel very vulnerable and alone–because they are.

Feel lost in the sense of forgotten or abandoned. If they went missing, no one would miss them. That’s a terrible apprehension.

Another paradigm-case is a hiker who loses his way. If he’s with a fellow hiker, if they both are lost, they at least take comfort in their companionship.

But a lone hiker normally takes comfort in hope. Trusting in the fact that even though he is lost, people are looking for him. There are friends and family who notice that he never came home. A search party is trying to find him at this very moment.

But suppose there was no search party. Suppose no one was waiting for him to return.

He suddenly feels terribly alone in the world. That, in a sense, he was always alone in the world. It’s just that, in this situation, it hits him for the very first time.

Or perhaps you have an injured hiker who’s abandoned by his party. They leave him behind because he would slow them down.

Perhaps he adopted a Nietzschean philosophy. And that sounded swell as long as he was young and strong and able-bodied. A proud, youthful atheist–exulting in his manly independence. But now that he’s weak and needy and vulnerable, that’s not much of a creed to live by–or die by. A philosophy that deserts you in your time of need.

I suppose that some medical patients feel lost. They went to their family doctor for some ailment. They’ve known him for years. But he refers them to a specialist–who refers them to another specialist. They wind up in the hospital. Handed off from one stranger to the next. At the mercy of others. Where are they anymore?

At the outset I said there were few things worse than being lost. But there is one thing worse: to be lost, but not know that you are lost.

Of course, that feels better, but it’s far worse. In that condition, a lost soul is heedless of his own condition. He ambles about, frittering away precious time. For time is running out, yet he has no sense of urgency. No sense of jeopardy. Of what it truly means to be lost, utterly lost, in a world which is indifferent at best, and malevolent at worst.

It’s like a hunter stalked by a lion. He imagines that he is hunting the lion, but the lion is hunting him .The lion approaches him from behind, but he’s oblivious to the peril since his back is turned to the lion.

You can see the lion, but he cannot. You jump and shout and wave your hands, but he can’t hear you. He’s not looking in your direction. There he stands, blissfully unconscious of the silent slayer which is creeping up on him, step by fatal step.

1 comment:

  1. WoW.

    That was *powerful*, Steve.

    I was with you all the way on the loneliness part of the lost person. All the way. It's frightening.

    Then you doubled up on me and spoke about The Evil One coming up on the lost person who doesn't know he's lost.

    Blam! And that's frightening too!

    Two very frightening real-life scenarios in one short blog post.

    Very well-written. Deep thanks for sharing your insights.