Loneliness is one of the most influential factors in modern life. All too quickly people move from a life where they have felt essential and important to a life where they feel superfluous and useless. The loss of responsibility makes one feel unimportant and, in many cases, very lonely.
In some way or another, every person experiences the exile of loneliness. You can live in the same house with a person, or several persons, and still feel exiled. Loneliness may come as a result of some specific event – a sudden illness, the loss of a job, the death of a mate, a misunderstanding with a friend, a feeling of dependence when we have nothing to depend on, or in so many other ways. Loneliness can rise in front of us like a brick wall: an empty chair, a hushed silence, an itch but no place to scratch, a feeling of tiredness with no place to lie down, a desire for expression with no ears to hear. One can experience a climate of discomfort but not be able to explain it.
Remember, it is okay to need to be comforted. It is as blessed to receive comfort as it is to give comfort. It is just as human to need to be consoled as it is to console. We like to identify ourselves with strength, but sometimes we also need to realize our weakness. Sooner or later, each of us comes to the place of needing to be comforted.
We remember the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. In it there is a touching scene as Mary Magdalene sings to Jesus:
“Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to problems that upset you. Oh don’t you know everything’s all right, yes everything’s fine. And we want you to sleep well tonight. Let the world turn without you tonight. If we try we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight.”
There is a big difference in being alone and being lonely. Many people find great happiness and inspiration in moments of aloneness. Loneliness is never happy and can come about in many different ways. A teenager confessed to his father, “Dad, I am the loneliest when you don’t listen to me and I feel that I can’t get through to you.” Many of us experience that loneliness when we cannot communicate with the one we wish to get through to.
Recently, a single man was telling me how he went to places where other single people congregate, but that he was finding disappointment in activities with impersonal acquaintances. So-called “fun evenings” were really not much fun for him.
I have found great inspiration in seeing the giant redwood trees in California. I am told that they are the largest living things on earth. Seeing their great size, one would think that the redwood tree is so strong that it is completely independent. Such is not the case. Redwood trees do not have a very deep root system. For this reason, one rarely sees a redwood tree growing alone. Instead, they grow in groves and they intertwine their roots together. In this way these giant trees support one another. So it is with people. When we become involved with each other, we have and find we are no longer alone.
On the other hand, solitude can be a source of strength, if it is used properly. Henry Thoreau put it this way, “A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.” Solitude can be a very precious experience, if we learn to use it creatively.
For each of us there are times when we are compelled to make a journey alone. Some paths are wide enough for just one person. Some burdens must be carried; some work undertaken; some guilts borne; some decisions made by just one person. There are some paths that only you can walk. Some burdens only you can carry. Some guilts that only you can bear. Some decisions that only you can make. No one else can be born for you.
By Bob Mueller – Bishop of the United Catholic Church www.bobmueller.org