No Man Is An Island
A movie, a broken relationship and a pig reveal important principles about friendship.
By a show of hands, who can’t help but instantly think of “Friends Are Friends Forever” or your senior class song when I say that word? Come on, don’t be shy. Well, the good news is I won’t be drawing on those songs in this article. The bad news is that you’ll now have them stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.
Aside from 80s junior high retreat theme songs, two quotes come to mind when I think about the concept of friendship, and how important it has become in my own life.
No man is an island.
– John Donne
This popular saying serves as the foundation for one of my favorite movies, About a Boy.
(Editor’s note: Please read the Plugged In review of this movie in order to better evaluate whether or not this is a film you should see. We love encouraging media discernment here at Boundless!)
The movie follows the stories of two characters whose paths cross unexpectedly. Will is a 30-something bachelor whose sole purpose in life is to live only for himself. Living off of the royalties of a hit Christmas song his father wrote, he doesn’t need a job. So he spends his days trying to meet women, watching TV, buying CDs, and playing pool. He disagrees with Mr. Donne, instead thoroughly enjoying his “island dwelling.” He sees no need to become close to anyone. In his own words, he’s the star of “The Will Show,” which is not an ensemble drama. Other characters come and go, but he is the only main character. He’s quite successful at his detached life, that is, until he meets Marcus.
Marcus is a 12-year-old who just doesn’t fit in. He is bullied constantly at school for accidentally singing out loud in class and for wearing strange clothes. But despite his unpopularity at school, his greatest concern is for his mother, who struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies. Eventually, he comes to a conclusion that is quite the opposite of Will’s philosophy. Instead of isolating himself from the world, Marcus decides that he and his mother need to surround themselves with close friends to help them through the joys and pains of life. It’s through one of Will’s efforts to continue his island life that he and Marcus meet.
Over the course of the movie, Marcus continues to push his way into Will’s life and challenge his isolated life. Through the friendship that develops and a series of other events, Will realizes that his efforts to shield himself from relationships and emotions have led him to a life without much meaning.
His final lesson occurs when he realizes that Marcus is about to put his own personal fears on the line in an effort to show his mom just how much she means to him. As Will tries to talk him out it, he tells Marcus that he can’t make his mom happy, and that he needs to focus on making himself happy. His reasoning is that if you let other people in a position to make you happy, then you run the risk of them making you unhappy. Marcus argues back that both he and his mom have tried to be happy by just looking out for themselves, but that it doesn’t work. He decides it’s worth the risk of making himself vulnerable in order to let his mom know how he feels, and he goes ahead with his plan.
At one point, it looks as though Will’s advice may have been right, but suddenly he realizes the significance and sentiment behind the actions of his friend, Marcus. Seeing Marcus risk everything for his mother, Will takes a giant step out of his comfort zone for his friend, who is the only thing in his life with meaning. Through that step he rejects everything that goes along with island dwelling, and stands by Marcus as he does something extraordinary for his mom.
We’re not meant to go through this life alone. As Marcus states at the end of the movie, “you need backup.” God uses friendships to help bring happiness when all seems right, and to help hold us up when all seems wrong. Certainly, there are risks involved. Will was right; if you open yourself up enough to where people can make you happy, then they can make you unhappy too.
None of us is perfect, and friends are likely to let you down from time to time. And sometimes a person you thought was your friend may even betray you in a very painful way. Yes, letting someone in to your life can open the door to heartache. But Marcus was right too; living a life where you keep everyone at arm’s length and avoid caring about anyone other than yourself causes you to miss out on one of the greatest sources of happiness.
In the end Will maintains that he is still an island, but realizes that he is part of an island chain. “Below the surface of the ocean, they’re actually connected.”
I no doubt deserved my enemies,
but I don’t believe I deserved my friends.
– Walt Whitman
So often we hear that it’s important to surround ourselves with good friends. But how often do we hear an emphasis on the importance of being one of those good friends to someone else?
While I’ve always enjoyed the friendships God has placed in my life, there was a time where I behaved quite selfishly and very much took my friendships for granted. Looking back I can see that I was an unreliable and horrible friend at times.
I would commit to doing things and then back out at the last minute, even when people were depending on me to be there. I wasn’t trying to be that way, and in my mind I didn’t see it as that big of a deal. But now I see that it was. And one day I crossed the line from just being unreliable, to being outright dishonest.
As was usually the case, I had backed out of a commitment to some friends, but this time it wasn’t an insignificant one. Somehow I convinced myself that lying about why I had to cancel would be the best approach. I didn’t want them to be mad at me, so I thought the best way to handle it was to make up a reason they would find OK.
Looking back, I’m still ashamed that I’d actually convinced myself I was handling it the right way. They found out the truth, of course, and I lost two very close friends that day. In their grace and forgiveness, they have continued to be very kind to me since then, but the friendship as it was has never been repaired.
I deeply regret my behavior, and it’s a loss I’ve felt every day since. I learned a very hard — and costly — lesson at that point, one I’m embarrassed to admit I even had to learn in the first place. I realize now that friends are not some thing we can just keep around for when it’s convenient. They’re loved ones who are to be cherished. The problem is, I spent so much time focusing on how they benefited my life that I completely neglected the opportunity and privilege I had to invest in theirs.
I’m still far from a perfect friend, but there’s little I wouldn’t do for my friends. They are an instrumental and pivotal part of my life on a daily basis, and each one of them means a great deal to me. My prayer is that I can somehow find a way to contribute as much to their lives as they have to mine.
Perhaps the best way I can tie these thoughts together is to leave you with one final quote from a well-known philosopher which illustrates the need for, and the need to be, a friend.
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh,” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Copyright 2008 Nathan Zacharias. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Nathan is video producer/editor for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Growing up, he always had a passion for media, and he believes in its ability to shape a culture. A good word, a good image or good music can help people think, feel and change. Though he’s spent most of his years in Atlanta, he’s also lived in Colorado Springs and New York City. He and his wife, Sarah, married in 2011, and they are expecting their first child (a baby girl!) in June 2013. They live in Atlanta with their dog, Belle.