A Stop at Willoughby
The opening narrative of this episode says it all:
This is Gart Williams, age 38, a man protected by a suit of armor all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago, someone removed the bolt and Mr Williams’ protection fell away from him and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies in his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target, and blown him apart. Mr. Gart Williams, ad agency exec, who in just a moment, will move into the Twilight Zone in a desperate search for survival.
Gart Williams finds himself completely and utterly unhappy and does not know where to turn. His boss is yelling at him for a lost account, his wife berates him for not being more, and he is lost. During his commute home on the local train, Williams falls asleep and wakes up at a stop named Willoughby. Willoughby is a small town in the late 1800’s that appears ideal and exactly what Williams is looking for. A time and place where there is less stress, less pressure, and more happiness and enjoyment. When Williams wakes up, he realizes it was just a dream. This happens to Williams more than once. He wakes up feeling a sense of loss and disappointment for Willoughby being only a dream, a figment of his imagination. One night, Williams falls asleep again and wakes up at the train stop for Willoughby, gets off the train, and is greeted by name by the townspeople. Flash to present day, Williams, so distraught at the thought of having to continue on with the life he was living, jumped off the commuter train to his death.
This episode is relevant to so many people today. There are many people who feel just like Gart Williams; hopeless, spinning, unfulfilled, unhappy, not connected to people or purpose, and just lost. The only way that Williams saw a way out of his current predicament was to create a fictional place in his mind to go and then end his life. Sadly, this is the answer for many. Over 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. A large part of why people chose to end their lives is because they don’t feel like they belong, they feel lost, they feel alone, and they feel they are not worthy of connection and love. They feel exactly what Gart Williams felt. If you feel this way, if you identify with Gart Williams, please seek help immediately.
If you feel yourself identifying with Gart Williams, you are not alone. We live in a society, especially now with COVID, where we are isolated from one another, all we have for connection is social media which is more of an isolator at times than a connector, and we are searching for meaning and purpose. So how do we fix this? Is this something that can be fixed? The answer is yes it can. It may not be easy but it is fixable and it all comes down to you. You are the only person who can decide and create a life that is worthy of you.
Let’s start with connection and belonging. Connection and belonging is important because it is how we survive. From the time we were cave men and women to present day, survival was possible because we belonged to a group of people. Connection meant and still means safety, security, and sense of belonging. We are meant to belong to a group, a tribe, a family, a social structure. We are not mean to be alone. Being connected and feeling a sense of belonging is just as important as food and water. Below are some shocking statics regarding loneliness from socialpronow.com.
61% of Americans are lonely
21% of Americans do not have close friends
26% increase risk in mortality among individuals who feel lonely
45% increased risk in mortality in seniors who feel lonely
29% increased risk of heart disease in individuals with poor social relationships
32% increased risk of stroke in individuals with poor social relationships
Loneliness and isolation have similar effects on health as being obese, an alcoholic, or smoking 15 cigarettes a day
Gart Williams also felt that his life didn’t have meaning, that there was no purpose. He felt belittled by his supervisor and his spouse. He, himself, felt that he was unworthy, felt shame, and humiliation at the man he was. Why is meaning and purpose so important when it comes to living a good life? When your life has meaning and purpose, you are living for something bigger than yourself. You see yourself as contributing to something outside yourself and because of you, this bigger something is possible. That contribution is your purpose.
So how can we stop being like Gart Williams and more like ourselves? We have to feel genuinely connected to others and feel like we belong. Who do you have in your corner? Who is your tribe? Who are the people you can count on to build you up, support you, and love you unconditionally? You need these people and they need you. Find these people in your life and hold onto them tightly. If you don’t have people like this in your life, you will have to go out there and find them. This is non-negotiable. You cannot live without connection. Where can you go to find your people? A religious organization? Online social organization? Chat rooms? Meetups? Work? Neighbors? etc.
How can you find meaning and purpose? Look outside yourself for ways that your life has meaning? Whose life have you touched and made better? What contribution have you given the world? How have you made life better for others? If you feel that you haven’t done this, what can you start doing to impact the life of those around you? This could be helping the less fortunate, this could be sharing your story to let others know they are not alone, it could be making someone smile.
Connection and belonging is internal and meaning and purpose are external.
Life is hard and at times overwhelming. Having connection / belonging and meaning / purpose is the key to living a life that is empowering and impactful. What makes life have meaning is knowing that you were able to make the world better just because you are here. Everyone has a purpose, sometimes it is hard to figure out what that is but you have one. Keep trying to find your purpose and you will not only bring meaning to your life but to the lives of others. Remember, you are enough. You don’t need anything to make you worthy of love and connection, you don’t need anything to have meaning and purpose. Who you are and what you have are enough to be loved and have purpose.