“I feel we are all islands – in a common sea.” — Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I saw a variation of the above quote the other day as I walked through town. “We are all just islands in a common sea” was painted on the window of the mail depot, accompanied by whimsical depictions of bright striped fish, and it made me pause. At first glance, I disagreed with this assertion, that we are separate bodies of land floating in a shared sea. I feel, I know, that we are more connected than that. I thought, “No man is an island.”
But then I considered how islands are formed, from the shifting of continents and sand, and how they are often connected to other islands or even to the mainland if you look beneath the water. We, as islands, may appear to be isolated entities, separate in our individualism, but if you look below the surface, we are in fact connected to something greater than ourselves alone.
Perhaps it was how Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s quote was worded when I saw it painted on the window that skewed the message for me, or perhaps it was the mood I was in at that moment. I am willing to guess that when Lindbergh said she felt we are all islands in a common sea, she intended that we are joined to one another in our humanity.
Before I go further: you might be thinking, Who is Anne Morrow Lindbergh? I must admit that I didn’t know who she was, that when I looked up the message from the window and saw her name attributed to the quote, I had to delve a bit deeper to discover that she was an American author, aviator, and the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the aviator whose baby was kidnapped and killed in the 1930s.
Lindbergh was a prolific writer, who wrote everything from essays to poetry, and though she and her husband seemed to live a glamorous lifestyle, jetting off to exotic locales, they suffered tragedy. I doubt that a woman who traveled the world and spent much of her life examining and writing about the lives of American women would believe that human beings are essentially separate from one another.
To believe that we are separate, that each person is an island unto themselves, is to perpetuate one of the problematic belief systems that plagues our country today: otherness. This is an age-old fear, the fear of people who appear to be different from ourselves. But this fear has been flamed as of late, and it is now running rampant, causing a collective sickness. The current presidency came to be as a direct result of this fear-mongering. When we view people in terms of their differences, and this difference is cloaked in a negative shroud, then it is easy to see our fellow human beings as inaccessible islands, here on earth but far beyond our reach.
I believe that yes, of course we are all different, but we are also all the same. We come from the same place, we are all magically yet scientifically descendant from stardust, we all yearn for the same basic things: food, shelter, love, respect, purpose. And what makes us different, whether it be the color of our skin or the language we speak or the food we eat, are some of the many wondrous aspects of life as a human being. In our short lives here on earth, we have the chance to discover new cultures, to learn from their wisdom. As human beings, we have the privilege of encountering so many opportunities, one of the most beautiful being the possibility of empathizing with others.
But why? Why should we learn from and empathize with others? Though the answer seems pretty obvious to me, the current state of our country, our world, unfortunately says otherwise. We should care about “other,” “different” people because this care enriches our own humanity. We should care because we all come from the same speck of stardust. Because we are all linked, biologically and beyond. If we recognize this, a more peaceful, holistic world becomes more attainable.
A holistic world is a world with no suffering (by the hands of others), no war, no poverty. When we see our fellow human beings (and animals and land while we’re at it) as parts of a whole, when we look below the tides of the ocean to see that these apparent islands are connected to the mainland, the ideas of otherness and separatism, the modes of division and fear, hate and greed — they no longer function. How can a war over territory, over religious beliefs, or over money be plausible when we are all remnants of the same universal fabric?
So what does “I believe we are all islands – in a common sea” mean? Does it simply mean that we are all separate but living on the same planet? Even if Lindbergh meant only this, which I doubt, the simple reality that we are all living on the same planet is reason enough to take a step back from the fear and the hate that has bloomed like weeds across America. How could it possibly be that we all exist on the same planet, yet we have no relation to anyone other than our immediate families?
If Lindbergh meant that we may appear to be separate but we are all actually comprised of the same essence — that we all originate from the same sand and bedrock and volcanic ash, that the sea that surrounds us is not only home to all of us but also the womb from whence we all came — then to hate or fear another person is not only a fallacy, it is madness.
The definition of madness, of insanity, is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. So, why do we keep doing the same thing over and over again, the killing and the oppressing, the attempts to snuff out human life, and somehow keep envisioning an outcome that is not horrific and backwards? As we have seen throughout human history, the ends will never justify the means.
We are meant to believe that the ends justify the means when the “good guys” defeat the “bad guys.” But this categorization in and of itself is the problem. When we first defined one group of people as good and another as bad, we created the split, the idea that each man is an island, that we are all merely individuals, that the world is full of random instances and that nothing is connected to anything else. And where has this belief gotten us? It has created a world of class distinction, race, and countless other societal constructs that keep some of us out and others of us in.
We were all bestowed with unique gifts when we were born, this I believe, but I also believe that we are all essentially the same. We all want, no, need, love. We all wish for a better world for our children or our loved ones’ children to grow up in. We all suffer. We all seek happiness. And those of us who do not know this truth, that we are one and the same, are sick. They are sick because they are isolated. Whether this isolation is in a gilded cage or the prison cell of a broken mind, it is a sickness that they cannot see beyond. The remedy for this sickness is, of course, love. But the remedy also requires more than that. Our world is, unfortunately, not so easily managed.
The remedy for the sickness of separatism is the pursuit of knowledge, the disembowelment of ignorance. Ignorance is a dark, fertile breeding ground for hate; the sun does not shine there. But the sun can shine if the thickets of underbrush are willfully removed. When I say the pursuit of knowledge, I don’t necessarily mean going back to school to get your degree (though if you want to, more power to you; I believe education is paramount. It’s the institution of our educational system that is another topic). Knowledge can be obtained in many different places.
Knowledge is at our fingertips, or it may appear to be on the horizon, but it is always within our sights. It resides in books, and not just history or science books, but also in fiction, volumes of poetry, essays. It resides in the traditions and languages of cultures that differ from our own. It resides in nature, in the stars and the planets above us, in the blades of grass below our feet. Knowledge is all around us, it is a part of us. Just as our cells function on their own, with no dictation from us, wisdom — which is our privilege as human beings to discover — inhabits our very selves, below the surface. It is simply waiting to be realized.
I wish you a wild, free life.