“I’m a little bit lonely these days” – Bill Murray, Rushmore
A little bit lonely.
We know ourselves. We know when we’re feeling isolated, and as hard as it is, others know we feel alone only if we shout, “Do you see me? I’m here!” We’ve got to take a bit of time with the roommates, the colleagues, the spouses . . . and, with much eye contact, not only say we’re here, but that we need them.
The quickest way out of loneliness is to find a like-minded soul. It seems obvious, right? We know that. But we don’t do it, because it’s hard.
I won’t pretend to be a guru; I think you know it’s not good to be alone, in the bigger sense. But I want to encourage you—as I convince myself to do the same—that it only takes a call. Or a beer. Or a walk.
There’s a time to be alone . . . to think, meditate, pray. There’s a strength in self-reliance, learning to feel adequate. There’s a necessary time when you strip away some of the noises of your gadgets and listen to the life-beat in creation.
And other times?
You’re crying but no one’s close enough to hand you a tissue.
You’re overwhelmed by the lack of calls, texts, or visitors you get, bitterly thinking about how easy it would be for someone to send the smallest of messages to acknowledge you.
You’re trying to convince yourself how lovely it is to be quiet with an afternoon cup of coffee, but what you really want is to be near someone who can just barely hold your hand and say, “I love being here with you.”
Solitude can be a spiritual practice to sit quietly and gain knowledge of yourself or God. Loneliness is the overwhelming sense that no being, not even yourself, is enough.
Solitude is a discipline that trains, calms, and focuses you. Loneliness just hurts. Loneliness is not good.
I think God was talking about loneliness in Genesis 2:18, when, measuring the pulse of nature, he noted that a person shouldn’t have to be overwhelmed by aloneness. And when the humans lived together, binding together as family, it was good.
Solitude is much different from loneliness. It seems obvious, but isolation is something that can lead to both solitude and loneliness. One of those can be perfect for a healing soul; the other can lead to deeper pain.
I, a generally pale, slightly passive-aggressive Midwesterner, moved from the state of Michigan to England for graduate school. Sure, I have roommates, colleagues, and international student groups. But I am just getting to know them. We’re having conversations about pub fare and bus passes. Maybe we are talking about how I miss Madcap coffee, but I haven’t quite mentioned my mom’s way of scrunching her nose when she laughs. I’ve brought up my powder-blue quilted bedspread that’s embarrassingly country-kitsch, but not how much I miss seeing my boyfriend’s green eyes get a little blue in them when he wears the right shade of gray.
Ugh, that’s sappy. Sorry. But in this city, I don’t have a history, and these relationships aren’t very deep.
It’s always a bit harder to bring up the people I miss than some of the things or rituals I had. I’m not really lonely because I don’t have that patterned blanket; I’m really lonely because memories are tacked onto it. I know my parents are safe and still laughing, but I get to see their hands clap with joy only through a screen, when our time zones line up correctly.
I don’t know what the solution is, exactly.
People get married, and are still lonely. People have hundreds (thousands?) of friends on Facebook, and they’re still lonely. People move to new places for graduate school, and are very, very lonely.
We’ve got a red blanket in the living room of this house. It’s a communal thing, a homey detail to make this place (literally) warm. Here’s the thing: I won’t see my blue quilt for a while, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got the red blanket.
I don’t really care much about the throw. I don’t really like the fact that it’s red, to be honest, because it clashes with the purple couches (eww). But the color of the blanket doesn’t matter, because the principle is that we’ve already had a few nights when one of us is wrapped in the red cape, laughing at the differences or similarities between us. We’re pinning memories to it. That’s part of the healing, part of the solution to feeling so isolated and lonely.
These days are a little bit lonely.
But a little time, a lot of vulnerability . . . those will help.