Back in the day, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales ran a summer camp at the head of the Chesapeake Bay along the Elk River near North East, Maryland, not far from where – centuries before – Major General William Howe landed British forces in late August 1777, part of a campaign that would see Howe’s troops occupy Philadelphia and what remained of General Washington’s army retire to Valley Forge.
For the sake of safety, when it came time for swim period at the camp’s waterfront, the campers had to pair up or triple up before going in the water – we referred to this as the “buddy system”. Nobody was permitted to enter the water by themselves. As practiced, the buddy system served a triple purpose: it helped with maintaining an accurate head count, it aimed at promoting safety and it sought to enhance enjoyment.
That’s one way at looking at the divine admonition of Genesis 2:18, in which we hear: “It is not good for man to be alone”. It is not good for us to go it alone – we should always have companions for the journey. That is, when it comes to living life, we should employ a buddy system of one kind or another!
St. Francis de Sales believed that that no one should go it alone when it comes to living life on this earth. Paraphrasing from his Introduction to the Devout Life (I, 4), Francis de Sales observed:
‘Do you seriously wish to travel the road to devotion? If so, look for a good person to lead, guide and accompany you. This is the most important of all words of advice…Such a person will be a source of wisdom in affliction, sorrow and failure. Such a companion will serve as a medicine to ease and comfort our hearts when afflicted by difficulties. He or she will guard us from evil and make our goods still better…’
It’s no accident that the first thing that Jesus did as he began his public ministry was to surround himself with a core group of intimates: not perfect people by a long shot, but then, what friend or intimate is ever without some faults or growing edges? Son of God though he was, even Jesus knew not to live his life – his ministry, his mission – alone. Thus, while imitating Jesus is clearly about having the patience, the stamina and the courage to be your unique self, imitating Jesus is also about avoiding the temptation to be yourself all by yourself.
How many of us have a husband or wife, a friend or mentor, a coach or confidant, a trusted co-worker or classmate – more than likely, a combination of such folks – to enhance our experience of dealing with the inevitable twists and turns of life? Paraphrasing Catholic writer and presenter Matthew Kelly, becoming the ‘best version of yourself’ requires the help and support of other people in our lives.
Recall the words of John Donne, who while struggling with a serious illness in the winter of 1623, penned his now-famous poem “Meditation 17”:
“No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were.
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were…”
So, who are the “buddies” in your life? How might they help you to become true to yourself, that is, to be faithful to how God desires you to be a source of God’s light and love in the state and stage of life in which you find yourself?
Come on in – the water’s safe!