I am fast coming to the conclusion that I am the dullest person I know. I recently turned 50 and to celebrate I did two incredible things – I went for a quiet solitary walk down a country lane and I went to see the movie Jack Reacher… alone. When I turned 40 I was working at the Lee Abbey community and had a bouncy castle and a rave. But the thing is – though my 50 year celebrations were not very sexy, I really enjoyed them. I was quite happy to go strolling alone and to see Mr Reacher in the same vein. And it is so far my favourite film of this year, even though I saw it last year. [My birthday was Christmas Eve by the way.]
I am a fan of Lee Child’s huge series of Jack Reacher’s adventures, and though I have only so far read three of them I’m fairly sure I will read lots more. The thing about Jack Reacher is this – he pushes the loner hero to the limit. He has no relatives, no bank account, no home, no bills, no friends. He is a total professional, respected by other good guys and when he gets into a fight with five baddies you know he will win. He has no technology or butler, just his wits and his fists. He is like Batman, Bourne and Bond combined, yet stripped back. When creating a hero all the best books will tell you that it’s best to create someone who has no mother to wash his underpants for him, or a mortgage to pay. And Jack Reacher is the ultimate in this genre. He wanders from town to town, fighting injustice, loving women and moving on. In another world he would be sad and lonely, but not on the silver screen. Like Bond and Batman and Bourne he has problems, wrestles with himself and struggles to fit in. But it all looks so glossy and appealing that it appears ‘well cool’.
Today I was reading Sebastian Faulkes’ take on Skyfall – the most successful Bond movie of all time. Mr Faulkes, who wrote his own very good Bond novel Devil May Care, is not that taken with Skyfall lamenting the ‘humanising’ of Mr B. He doesn’t think it works to unpack the superspy too much. To unearth his real side. Better that Bond is just this cold professional with not too much of his underbelly on show. His article made me think again about us men. We all have the soft underbelly, the closet full of weaknesses, but we don’t know how to put them out there. Our mates will laugh. We prefer the loners, the superheroes with no ties, who drift, fight crime, are not sure who they are and wear bat suits. We grunt at each other in the pub or church, and when asked how we’re doing have our standard reply of, ‘Okay, cheers.’
I’m no good at the grunting thing. I don’t think I’m a proper man really, in spite of writing The Bloke’s Bible. But I do seem to be a loner. Relating to other people is hard work. And it makes me wonder how Jesus got on. He was surrounded by grunting disciples. Yet he was concerned with the truth. For heaven’s sake, he was the truth. Did he do small talk? Did he ever feel lost for words, or isolated in a crowd? Who knows. He was certainly different from everyone else and as such he must have felt troubled at times. He went off into isolated places. Perhaps I’m just a massive introvert. I have no conclusions or three shiny points to draw from all this. I just put it out there in case any other guys feel disconnected and isolated at times.
Yes Dave, I think we all feel isolated at times, but I like it as a way of understanding and getting to grips with my current situation. Getting distance on something, perspective and focus. When I’ve gone for walk and I’m standing on the top of a mountain I can see a bigger picture, and the stuff that I was too close to before, is clearer, cos I can see the stuff around it. Relish the isolation in it’s time, it helps with all the busy stuff.
On one of my birthdays a couple of years ago I just got on the train on my own from London to Hastings, walked down the coast path and back in the cold sunshine, and had fish and chips on my own before getting the train back. And I really enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had fantastic lots-of-people birthdays too (like my 30th) – but sometimes a quality alone-day is just the thing!
Men, many men, especially those from poorer backgrounds and big cities, have a struggle with machismo, to prove themselves tough or worthy to their mates, especially just as they are turning from teenagers into men. A lot of machismo is in fact bullsh*t, but it’s only with hindsight that many of us realise that. Many men are loners, they like their own company, I am like this myself even though I have a number of mates and am quite friendly and approachable. It’s just the way some of us are.
Like you, I like solitary walks, I like places in nature off the beaten track; I find sometimes that in introspection I begin to understand who I am, not trying to be the BIG man, but just who I REALLY am, without all the pretension and trappings of my background and culture. Some men go for sport, others want to impress women, others learn to box; for us as Christians, we find identity in Jesus and learning to be obedient to God’s will.