A Loneliness Observed
This concept of loneliness has been pervading my personal thoughts over the past few months. Let’s address something first. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Why write about loneliness? Simply put, loneliness is something that no one wants to admit they are going through let alone want to talk about. Furthermore, it is also something that no individual is immune to. But I think it makes sense to step out in faith and admit it; talk about it. While I had previously written about loneliness in the context of relationships, I didn’t quite know how to go about beginning to write about my own loneliness. But I did once hear that writing was an antidote for loneliness. So the most logical step was to just simply put pen to paper and begin.
When loneliness clouds your vision, it becomes the only thing you can see and understand. Following its due progression, it’s naturally the only thing that you can think about. It won’t necessarily make you (as the writer) an expert on anyone else’s loneliness (e.g. the reader), but since much of what surrounds loneliness is made up of similar elements, the writer/reader juxtaposition is a deeper relationship. In the end, a writer will write to tell others what they themselves see; what they themselves feel. And regardless of whether or not the reader can relate, in the end, writing will potentially be a way for an individual to escape from the labyrinth within his or her mind. And in some magical eureka moment, the reader may just come across an arrangement of words that just might define their own experience, and point them toward some sort of window through which his or her own perspective might change. For better or worse.
I suppose it would help to explain how I came to this place of self-contemplation, which exists alongside loneliness. It has been an interesting first quarter of 2011. Aside from work, many new opportunities related to music have been popping up. I have had the pleasure of doing a bit of traveling and meeting many new individuals. While this has been wonderful on so many levels, being constantly on the move coupled with new faces in unfamiliar surroundings has left me quite lonely. It’s almost like you’re surrounded by air, not water, but you’re still drowning. You’re drowning in this realization that all the discussions and interactions, aren’t really satisfying this thirst you have for true fellowship or connectedness. I’m not exactly stating that you go straight from a sense of loneliness to self-contemplation and then you’re done. For me, the past few months has culminated in a self-contemplation of sorts consisting of many stages. It isn’t an unfamiliar concept that we live in an era of surface relationships and interactions that stem across various avenues, such as texting, instant messaging, and email. This loss of personal connectedness is quite worrisome.
On the other hand, it seems that these types of connections are quite ubiquitous and it may just be that this is the inevitable direction that personal relationships are steering toward. My cries for society to do better with connectedness will probably go unheard. Simply put, you could presume that society is driven by something that waits for nothing: time. Society will defend itself by saying that time waits for no one and we need to get on with life, since life is so transient. But then there is an irony in that. Because life is transient, should you stop to smell the roses? Or are the roses really not worth missing out on that next platform we’re chasing. But then when life is through, will we have found ourselves running in circles, with an odd realization that we’ve simply tired ourselves out and fallen out of the hamster wheel?
One example of a transitional relationship between loneliness and connectedness is seen in the process of the grieving that takes place with the passing of a loved one. When someone we know loses someone they love, we want to acknowledge their pain so much… almost as if to know it as our very own. We go through the motions. We offer up our shoulder to cry on. We even offer our awkward platitudes. Maybe send some flowers (which in proper Dostoevsky-like form, will wither away much like all living things). And then a strange thing happens. Time plays its cards and we move on, leaving them to mourn on their own. We don’t do this in carelessness but rather because we understand society’s own defense that grief is a lonely and personal place. Nothing we say or do will really matter. It’s all part of a process.
I can’t help but think of one of the most poignant books I’ve ever read, “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. In the book, Lewis wrote about his experience with grief after the death of his wife, who succumbed to cancer. He didn’t write about his wife’s sickness but rather about his own thoughts within his mind. You are able to see “through the progression of the book”, the stages of his coming back to the world. In devouring his thoughts, one key element still stands out: I feel that the loneliness (expressing the pain of being alone) and solitude (expressing the glory of being alone) found in his experience with death and grief, was a secluded privilege of sorts.
And while calling it a privilege would almost seem counterintuitive, I really do believe loneliness is but a stage that is inevitably necessary for true growth. Of course, growth results from the self-contemplation that exists alongside loneliness. These days, it’s almost a recurring theme I hear from friends and family, who assume that since I’m quite extrovert, I must be having the time of my life being able to meet new people and see new sights. But I feel that my life experiences have instilled in me this desire and need for deeper connections with individuals, and in just making do with interactions that side on superficiality, externality, and brevity, it is leaving me almost depressed and quite lonely. I’m also not trying to say that every person I meet, I would expect to connect with on a deeper level, but I do feel that if the majority of the relationships that surround me are on a surface level, then it is likened to my being alone in a jail cell. Call me crazy for making this comparison, but at least in a jail cell, you can only but be yourself, whereas on the other hand, you are expected to go through the motions that all those around you are going through.
I honestly struggle with this idea of differentiating between certain relationships with certain people. You cannot connect on a deeper level with every individual, but I refuse to accept that and will damn well try, even if it means I’ll fall and get hurt. It goes back to vulnerability. Those who allow themselves to be vulnerable enough will either hurt lot or experience one of the key joys of life- to love and be loved in return. This isn’t limited to romantic relationships.
It’s also frustrating to know that as I come across more unique individuals and as I experience more unique situations in life, … it becomes harder and harder to relate to everyone on every thing. Now I do think it’s important to point out that the “quick fix” of reaching out to someone because they are lonely isn’t necessarily the best answer either. It really is acceptable to feel loneliness.
In the end, we’re not meant to be solitary creatures. But there is a sense of irony in that I feel that some solitude is indeed a necessity. You will either understand the difference between loneliness and solitude or believe it is the very same thing. But if you see loneliness as the “poverty of self” and solitude as the “richness of self,“ then you’ll see that loneliness is almost a fear of living. But I suppose it makes more sense knowing what my loneliness points to. Singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser reiterates one of Lewis’ points in her song “C.S. Lewis Song” where she writes: “If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for here.” For me, loneliness points toward finding hope in something beyond my own self. It points to an inevitable stumbling; maybe even a fall. But you pick yourself back up, and start living.
It has been a joy to struggle through loneliness and learn to embrace the solitude, and allow it to serve as a catalyst to really think about and challenge my own mindset. A mindset that holds within it what it is that I strive for and live for, each and every day. It isn’t about the status of my job or a chosen career. It isn’t about nice cars, fancy things, nice homes or any other measures of wealth. It isn’t about how many people you know or how popular you are or how many people are enamored with you. Instead, I feel that it’s probably got to do a little something with the relationships I am cultivating through love. I’m not saying its easy. People by nature have conflicting hearts that oftentimes deceive and so in turn, conflict is inevitable. We won’t be able to love all the time, but like many things in life, the effort we put in will most likely define us. And so, contrary to what society tells you, it’s okay to be alone. Because loneliness is a privilege. In loneliness and in solitude, we proclaim the depths of our love. It is a privilege that indeed has no place for society.
“…chasing dreams on the bend/left with nothing in the end/trying to fill the void/left destroyed/you know, this unhappiness inside fosters a hunger for the sky.”
-Jae Jin (lyrics from an unfinished original song)