iv. Loneliness is part of the human experience.
When Kate woke, she felt a stitch in her heart, in that scarred part that had torn when her dad died. She thought it must have a fissure in it, that hadn’t properly sealed, because when the weather was cold, it still hurt.
She missed her boyfriend. He was out at the far station, so his Internet access and cellphone coverage were spotty at best. He might be out there for weeks.
She missed her mom.
She wasn’t supposed to be alone at this time of year. Was this loneliness? Was that what this feeling was?
Kate pulled on her winter fleece and fisherman’s knit hat. The apartment building’s furnace had been wheezing lately, and though the landlord kept promising to fix it before the cold set in for good, it hadn’t been fixed yet, and her place was cold, especially near the single-pane windows.
What was loneliness, anyway?
She decided to google it.
It was, apparently, quite common, and quite commonly perceived as a fault.
Every self-help article she read made it seem like she was to blame. She should spend time with family. She should get together with friends. She should volunteer. She should engage in a hobby. She should exercise. And if she did all that, and still felt lonely, then she should get it checked out. Maybe it was anxiety. Or depression. Or some sort of social disorder.
She began to suspect that she wasn’t correctly handling the job of being human. So now, in addition to feeling lonely, she felt guilty, and a little bit ashamed.
And then she found a post on facebook from last Christmas by Lee Harris, the Lee Harris, guru-and-all-that, about “Christmas Weirdness.” Which he felt. And which, judging from the 3.5K likes, 1.6K shares, and 682 comments, struck a chord with thousands.
And he confessed to feeling this way even when he was with others. And it wasn’t his fault. It was simply how he felt. For whatever reason.
The big shift came for me several years back, when I realized I should just EMBRACE that ‘weird’ feeling if it hit me. Not judge it, or try to get away from it. Just acknowledge it was there, and own it. Either sit with it for a while, breathe and let it move through me, or change my focus and do something else.(Harris 2017)
The feeling hurt, actual physical pain, around her heart. And her pulse began to race a little bit, and she wished she could cry to release the pressure somehow.
She felt it, sitting there in her chest, the cold having entered her and settled. She breathed around it, without trying specifically to talk herself out of feeling it or to distract herself from the pain and discomfort. She just sat with it. So this is what loneliness feels like, at this moment.
And the next moment, it felt different, a bit lighter, a little space around it.
…close your eyes and connect with anyone else who feels lonely this christmas.(Harris 2017)
She saw her mom, walking barefoot along the beach, thinking of her, thinking of Kate’s dad, and, even though her new husband grilled steaks on the lanai, she felt that her mom, too, felt lonely, just then.
She saw her boyfriend, analyzing trends that his measurements revealed. He missed her, too. He was lonely, too.
A girl in London played with a doll in a cardboard-box dollhouse, and, at that moment, the doll was lonely, taking the girl’s pain. A lonely boy in India sat beside the river. In Africa, an old woman watched a single cloud’s slow progress against the dry sky.
And Kate, through the fading ache inside of her, felt connected with them all, joined in this shared experience. Even as the pain dissolved into warmth, Kate thought it wouldn’t be so bad if it remained, for it joined her with everyone who lived, and everyone who had ever lived.
Loneliness didn’t mean that Kate wasn’t being human right. It meant that she was fully human, for loneliness is part of the human experience.