The Maker of the soul
Its Caverns and its Corridors
--Emily Dickinson, 1862
It was a news item easily missed, overlooked, and lost last week in the avalanche of stories about government shutdown and nationwide protests, another impossible Patriots' win and a cold snap finally snapped. Yet its a fitting story for the depths of winter, gray and spare January, when so many are cooped up inside, isolated and often alone.
Responding to what she deems a public health crisis on her island home, British Prime Minister Theresa May created a "minister for loneliness", a cabinet level secretary responsible for creating programs to address the severe social isolation of hundreds of thousands of Britons. Said May, "I want to...to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by [caregivers], by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to...."
A part of me wants to excuse us if we missed, overlooked, or lost that breaking news about the truth of human loneliness. I mean: who's got time to keep up with it all, amidst the craziness and swirl of daily life? We've got enough work to do just for ourselves: jobs to commute to and kids to care for and causes to fight for and games to watch and trips to make and parties to plan. Who's got the time to be lonely or even think about loneliness?
That's how it is with loneliness. We are not lonely, until one day we are.
Until the kids leave home and move far away. Until our beloved lifelong partner dies and the house is now oh so big and quiet. Until we slow down, body and mind, but the rest of the world just keeps on chugging right along so fast it forgets about us. Until so many of our peers die and while the young may celebrate our longevity, we struggle with it.
It's not just the old or infirmed who wrestle with loneliness. In 2018 we've got a whole new kind of loneliness to confront, the loneliness of technology, devices which seem to connect us to others but which often disconnect us, push us away from flesh and blood, face to face relationships. We claim hundreds of Facebook friends but then have no one to talk to when a crisis hits or we need someone to meet for coffee or talk about our day. We use brightly lit screens to stay connected to everything that's happening "out there" but then we never actually leave the house or the chair or the couch or the bedroom.
The good news is we don't need a government or institution to take the lead on solving the human problem of loneliness. Kudos to May for shining a light on our isolation from each other but finally, loneliness can only be overcome when those who are socially vigorous and well connected, connect to those who are not. When the young slow down enough to reach out to the old. When we the busy step back enough to ask ourselves: whom am I missing in my life?
Who is lonely in your world? A grandparent or senior relative who needs a phone call or better yet, a visit or road trip out for lunch. A widowed neighbor who'd love to catch up on some local gossip. A divorced friend who maintains a stoic facade of strength but who just needs a good friend to care. A teenager who's locked up in her room with a phone or a video game but who in fact might love to get out, talk, laugh, connect for real.
It's no mistake that God makes us for each other: always has, always will. Adam for Eve. Mary for Martha. Sara for Abraham. You for me and me for you. We are not built to be alone, not at all. We are instead made to be with and by each other. Loneliness does not have to happen or be a social death sentence for millions in our world.
But first--we have to do something about it. Otherwise, we'll miss, overlook, and continue to lose the lonely. So after you finish reading this, reach out to a lonely person who just needs to know that there is one other soul in this big world, who actually cares about them. Remembers them. Loves them.
It is January. It can be mighty lonely. And right now someone in your life needs to hear from you. They are lonely. But, God willing, not for long.