All the Lonely People

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Because you’re lonely in your nightmare let me in

Duran Duran

Consider for a moment all of the people you know. Friends. Family. Neighbors. Co-workers. Passing acquaintances. What do you know about them? Do you know their hopes? Do you know their loves? Do you know their struggles? Do you know their fears? How deep does your knowledge go?

A loved one of mine, now gone, once said “Nobody knows who I truly am.” Isn’t that the truth? When we fall to our darkest places, it becomes easy to believe the lies of isolation. The struggles are only mine. The loss is only mine. The fears are only mine. The darkness is only mine. No one else could possibly know these depths.

In the midst of our battles, we tend to retreat to our own lowest common denominator: me against the world. We own that space as the last corner of the universe that we might occupy. That tiny fragment of our existence then becomes universal, covering an expanse greater than all the goodness we could ever imagine. Expanding, it even consumes time, blotting out any happy trace of something better, a moment when hope still came calling.

What do we know of the struggles of others? It is likely that someone you know is there, right this minute. Lost in the isolation of loneliness. Cornered in that small space with the shadows encroaching and no sign of light anywhere. Convinced that no one could possibly understand, care, or see the hurt or doubt or loss. Certain that it is theirs alone.

How many people do you know who are literally alone, having lost a spouse? Or alone in the loss of a child or parent? With time, we will know more and more. If not yet, we will eventually know it ourselves.

Alas, it doesn’t require such loss to transport us to loneliness. Many of us can find it quite effectively on our own. What about loss of self? Loss of motivation? Loss of interest? Loss of purpose or direction? Life’s normal setbacks are more than equal to the task of casting us into darkness. Banished, our feelings conspire to chain us to hopelessness or affirm our own unworthiness. Here, we race to the bottom of our own value, losing strength that once sustained and perhaps even the energy to find it again.

Holidays seem to exacerbate our own manic tendency toward loneliness, whether or not we are truly alone. For that is the lie. In a world of nearly 8 billion people, we need never be alone. But all who live in that place know that physical presence alone does little to assuage the isolation. Our minds can find it in the most crowded of rooms.

“I love you. That’s it. I just wanted you to know.” So read a recent text from a friend of mine. We don’t see each other often but our affection doesn’t seem to fade. His text was timely. Such a text is always timely. There was no prompt for it. No call or signal. For those of us who are Catholic, we will likely see the Holy Spirit’s hand in it. I don’t think I was feeling lonely that day, but his text chased any potential clouds away.

Whether we live alone or in a crowded house. Whether we work in an office environment or remotely. Whether we live under a bridge or in a comfortable suburban neighborhood, we all exist with the risk of loneliness. We can find it at the top or bottom socioeconomically. We find it at the pinnacle of achievement or the deepest depth of loss. It finds us in the beginning, across the middle, and towards the end. Loneliness does not discriminate in any way; it will assault all of us given any opportunity.

There is no shame in it. Irrational or not. Real or imagined. The clawing, grasping, reaching, whisper of loneliness chases everyone from time to time. The hustle bustle busyness of our lives often hides it or wraps it in the thin facade of fullness, but it still exists. All must face it and yours is never yours alone. We all are in it together – even when we don’t recognize it, feel it, or want it. As Scrooge was admonished by Marley, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.”

I love you. That’s it. I just wanted you to know. I will your good. I wish you peace and joy. I wish you worthy struggles and the satisfaction of moving beyond them. I wish you the opportunity to serve others in their isolation and loneliness – a wish granted daily. May we all remember those we see outside who are suffering such isolation. May we all see those near us who might also be suffering loneliness. A loneliness we often fail to recognize.

Showing 3 comments
  • Trish+Berry

    Another very insightful Blog. “I love you”

  • Jaime Borkowski

    I know this sounds weird, but I actually felt really lonely at our wedding. Almost all the people I loved were there, but somehow I felt like I was outside of the celebration. It is easy to slip into that. I think the key is to engage people and check on how they’re doing instead of focusing on your own isolation. You inherently pull yourself out when you think of others.

  • Shari Frank

    Phil, while at college, there was the Newman Center on campus, and right next door, was the large, inner-city, old, Catholic church, St. Agatha St. James. I did some of the social and volunteer stuff through the Newman Center, but liked to go to the large, old, traditional church next door. Saturday afternoon Mass was my go to Mass. The church had 3 different priests, and unlike many times when a church has multiple priests, I never caught myself silently wishing for one over the other. I felt like almost every single week, the homily was directed specifically to me. Similar to those homilies, I find that your weekly blog almost always sends a powerful message to me. So, thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with others. You have a gift that I know the Frank family appreciates. John and I often talk about your message, and I find myself more and more sending your blog to Ryan and Reagan to read. So, thank you!

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