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case, there is typically clear movement towards those communities. On many occasions, it
a fulfilling purpose- finding or restoring love, was also noted that surrounding communities,
friendship, rescue, justice. Quite literally, as I not directly impacted, had increased rates of
write these words, Howard Shore's film-score depression. One of the clear implications is
for "Lord of The Rings: Fellowship Of The how important having a sense of purpose and
Ring" plays through my headphones and I belonging is.
feel an odd mix of comfortable melancholy
as I imagine my friends (and perhaps myself)
Junger also served as a journalist in Sarajevo,
trekking with a hurried and purposed step Bosnia when the city was under siege by
across a beautiful and dangerous landscape. Serbian forces during the civil war that started
It's a story of purpose, belonging, dependence, when the former Yugoslavia broke apart in
failure, and redemption.
1991. Over the course of three years, 70,000
Bosnians (20% of the population) were killed
In this life, true depth of intimacy is found or wounded by Serb forces. The devastation
not only in the experience of observing others, was unimaginable and 1/2 of all children
or in the passive stirring of our emotional witnessed someone killed and 1 in 5 people
depths, but in the experience of a shared lost a family member. Returning to Sarajevo
knowing, acceptance, and belonging (iden- 20 years later, Junger was surprised to discover
tity), and purpose-all testifying that we a common longing among those who had been
matter. While this has always been elusive in there during the siege. He writes, "I returned
the human experience-'we few, we happy to find people talking a little sheepishly about
few'- in many ways we have lost touch how much they longed for those days. More
with the critical importance of this element precisely, they longed for who they'd been
of living. We have replaced this core desire back then." He goes on to say, "For a former
that truly satisfies- living with purpose, with soldier to miss the clarity and importance of
others-with the transient pleasures of comfort, his wartime duty is one thing, but for civilians
entertainment, drink, food, sleep-all amazing [to miss those times] is quite another."
delights for which we should be thankful!
But in and of themselves, these each soothe
To make this point, Junger tells of his
only for a moment, leaving us wanting and interview with Bosnian journalist Nidzara
needing more. And when indulged to excess, Ahmetasevic who was injured during the siege
they leave us feeling emotionally and physically when she was 17 years old. She describes that
bloated and sick. Living with relational purpose, during that time her neighborhood of 60
however, touches the core of who we really are. families created a huge cooperative of shared
It satisfies without indulgent regret.
food, ovens, shelter. They planted community
gardens and collected water together. Nidzara
The Importance of
recounts that the teens lived a sort of communal
Relational Purpose
life of their own, sharing music, food, concerts,
While living with relational purpose is jokes, and conversation. She remembers, "The
most often a choice ('he who chooses to risk love we shared was enormous." Junger tells us
bleeding with me on this day'), circumstances that she hesitates, then qualifies her statement
do on occasion require it of us. It is during as she recognizes her nostalgia, "The siege was
these times that we are reminded of how so terrible. It was so hard. But, you know what?
necessary and satisfying it is. In his book We all kind of miss it...we were better people
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, author during the siege. We helped each other. We
Sebastian Junger discusses the findings of social lived more closely. We could have died for
scientists through history as they have studied each other. And now, you know, it's peaceful.
the impact of war and other calamities on It's- we're a wealthy society. And everyone just
communities. The surprising finding is that as lives for themselves. And everyone's depressed."
the individuals of those communities, having When asked if people had been happy during
personally lost so much, banded together to the war, Ahmetasevic answered, "We were the
survive and recover, there was a consistent happiest...and we laughed more."
reduction in depression and suicide rates in

When Joy Returns
One of the great challenges of our current
circumstances is that a pandemic has necessarily separated our communities. Rather
than banding together, we are forced apart,
hidden, covered, even suspicious... we are
afraid. Though uncertain of the nature of the
journey ahead, there will come a day, when
we will gather again. It will be different, for
a while, and we will be careful. But we will
need each other-much will have been lost
and the need will be great.
What history has proven is that joy will
not be restored when our accounts are full,
the shelves are stocked, school is in session,
employment assured, and travel resumed. Yes,
let us hope for these things. But if they are
to be our source of satisfaction, we will soon
enough judge them for their insufficiency,
inconvenience, or demands.
Rather, let this time be a reminder to carefully
choose what we long for most - to know and
be known; to be embraced and called brother,
sister, and friend; and to live with a shared
purpose greater than ourselves. To choose
otherwise is to risk awakening 'accursed that
you were not there.'
Two are better than one, because they have a
good return for their labor. If either one of them falls
down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone
who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if
two lie down together, they will keep warm. But
how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be
overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of
three strands is not quickly broken. - Ecclesiastes
About the Author:
Dr. David White is a board-certified
emergency medicine provider and director of
urgent care services at AspireCARE, located
in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Having worked
a full range of settings, from urban to remote
rural to austere combat, Dr. White is acutely
attuned to serving a mixed cultural and socioeconomic demographic where he focuses on
providing patients with complete health care
designed to heal the whole individual. He can
be reached at dwhite@aspirebetter.com.

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