I like to think of myself as independent.
Spending eight years at a boarding school as a child, I had to get used to being on my own from an early age. I learned to take care of myself, clean my room (under the threat of chopping firewood), and make friends with classmates. I was responsible.
When I transitioned to university, the prospect of living in a dorm didn’t scare me. Sure I had plenty of other worries – such as figuring out a different culture – but taking care of myself wasn’t one of them. I knew how to manage without my parents around.
After graduation, I moved to Chicago. Being alone in a big city didn’t phase me either. I adapted as I’ve done before. I took care of my needs.
I control my life. I have the ability to survive on my own.
Or so I think.
Visiting friends in rural Canada, I look out over the cornfield.
golden stalks sway
planted firm in fertile soil
tended by farmers
where would we be without rain
where would we be without sun
The corn depends on its environment. I am no different.
My body feels rested after a good night of sleep. But the bed I slept on was not mine. The blankets were not mine. Not even the roof belonged to me. Due to the hospitality of friends, I slept in peace – without worry of cold or mosquitoes.
A moment ago, I was inside for breakfast. A plate, that also does not belong to me, hosted a feast of eggs and vegetables. I did not raise the chickens or collect the eggs. I did not plant, water, or pick the zucchini from the garden. I didn’t even prepare the meal. Due to the generosity of friends, I do not go hungry.
Over a cup of tea, I had a conversation with the people I’m staying with. I learned about their life on the farm and shared what’s happening in my life. Together we appreciated life’s blessings. Due to the fellowship of friends, I am not lonely.
Even in Chicago, I am still be dependent. I need farmers to grow the food I eat. I need the construction workers, train drivers, and police officers to keep the city running. I need my community of friends offer support and share life. I need my wife for, well, everything. Due to all of these people, I live the way I do.
I depend on everyone.
At first it seems like a loss of freedom – that admitting we’re dependent on others means we can do nothing on our own. But I think the opposite is true. Acknowledging our need for others is freeing.
We don’t have to journey through life alone. We walk in the company of friends.
We don’t have to imitate someone else. They’ve got that role covered.
We don’t have to do everything ourselves. There are others around to help.
In the same way that we depend on others, others depend on us. Our place in the system is important. We’re able to thrive there.
Dependence doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility. We choose our values. We decide our attitude. We select our reaction to those we depend on.
It’s up to us to live in a way that adds value to those around us – our families, communities, and world. We can follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” For when we are at our best, others benefit.
Looking back at my years in boarding school and college, I see the people I depended on – family, friends, teachers, farmers, shopkeepers, cooks, janitors, and countless others. They did so much for me.
PHOTO: Dependent on the rain.