There are alleys in the soul where man walks alone … a world of privacy … Life comprises not only arable, productive land, but mountains of dreams, an underground of sorrow, towers of yearning, which can hardly be utilized to the last of the good of society …

Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Yes.  We have within us, when we give it time and recognition, “alleys in the soul” where we walk alone amid dreams, and sorrow and yearning.

For most of our life these lay within: ignored, dormant, unattended for we are occupied, preoccupied, claimed by the world of work, and obligations, entertainment and distraction, the intervention of others, events that find us.

But alas turn to the quiet and you enter the alleys of the soul.  And you wonder. What is this all about, this living – a life?  And how has the world moved away from me in so short a span of sixty years, or seventy?

Thus it is and more so when the pace of change accelerates as it has in the last century.  Change that re-orders life itself, and its vital (formerly stable) understandings and institutions.

A dear friend told me of her adult, educated son who said that he and his wife were getting a divorce … and three weeks later purchased a large home to reside in.  Another dear friend told me she was stunned when one of her sons, educated and successful, spoke admiringly of a useless, secretive, greedy, dishonest in-law despite knowing that the in-law was a fiercely aggressive adversary of his mother.

Lest you think that our walk in the alleys of our soul is without its benefit, think of this – who among us, expect us, has the time to ponder these things and stand and witness, speak with an informed heart that has been culled from years of toil and pain, surprise and disappointment, sadness and joy?

The point is this: elders have a place, and wisdom to share.  What we have others younger than us need.

In saying this I am reminded of a speech that psychiatrist Scott Peck gave in May 1992 in which he lamented the loss of understanding of and appreciation for the place of spirituality in the needs of men and women in his profession and the public they serve.

He spoke at that time of spiritual development as giving one access to “the unseen order of things,” a phrase he borrowed from the highly gifted and esteemed psychologist William James whose short book Varieties of Religion is a must read.

Yes, “the unseen order of things.”  In the alleys of the soul we come to such “things” and their “order.”

In a culture that segregates the elders, while its young swirl in confusion and growing blindness … despair and worse, do those of us who are “alley dwellers” not have a role?  Are we not needed?  Is wisdom not in short supply and its need large?  Is compassion not diminished and discontent multiplied?

If your education has not included the things that would help you come to know the “alleys of the soul” or tasks have denied you the time to ponder the dreams, sorrows and yearnings within, take time – read, sit in quiet, engage knowledgeable others so you might speak, help and restore a health to a culture that is lost and getting more so every year.  Those younger than us are our children, they are missing what we now possess.

The soul … presses upward … It distrusts things seen … It seeks things which truly and everlastingly are.

Desiderius Erasmas, in Enchiridion


Note – I will shortly develop a short reading list of books that you will find useful in your efforts to situate yourself in this troublesome culture.  Why?  Our educational system has short-changed us, conformed us to a disordered culture.