“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” –William James
We like to think that our experience is special, that our story is singularly unique. That our experience is beautiful or horrible in a way no other story is, that it is exceptionally poignant in the scheme of the universe.
We say to each other “LOOK. THIS HAS HAPPENED TO ME” via Facebook and Instagram. We throw our experiences out into the world, hoping that by sharing them we can hold onto them, creating a backup copy just to make sure our memory doesn’t let us down.
Look, world- I have accomplished this goal. Look, friends- I have hit this milestone.
Look, everyone- I have suffered this loss, I have felt this heartbreak. It is far too much to bear alone.
And in every instance we search for others to validate the hope that our lives are worth noting, that our actions deserve a second glance, a thumbs up, a double tap. We hope that we are doing something extraordinary.
It is hard, I think, to realize that our stories are not all that special. That the tales of a broken heart, of lost love, of joy, of happily ever after- these are told time and again, in different places, with different names, including various obstacles. We are not writing new stories, we are retelling the same ones.
What a revelation, to some of us, that our experience is not new, that it is shared with countless others. That the lessons you have learned, the conclusions you have drawn, the simple truths of life that you have been forced to discover for yourself have been there, all along.
That all of the LOOK, THIS IS MY EXPERIENCE posts online are all the same, in varying forms, with different filters on photos, in different parts of the world.
But does that make them any less important, or special, or sacred?
It is humbling and mystifying to discover that someone else out there, in fact many people out there, have felt what you are feeling, have struggled and triumphed so very much like you have. It is beautiful and wonderful to know that, no, our experience is not all that unique- and because of that there is a whole world of people with which to say, ‘yes, me too.’
That is the reason we stare at paintings and cry at movies. It is the thing that whispers to us that dancing is beautiful, the invisible force that makes a crowd sway to music.
We each experience joy, love, and loss ourselves, and the feelings are special because they are our own, they are unique in the very action of feeling them.
But in our reaction to them, in the way they shape our lives, our minds, our world- they are shared. They are beautiful, special. They are what make us human, what makes this ‘the human experience.’
They are what make us the same. And that is what makes them so very important.