There is a wise man on my campus that students can correspond to anonymously via a bulletin board in the main library. Anyone can write a comment, question, limerick, or complaint on a little index card, slip it into the provided box, and Jean Q. Jacques will answer it (or embellish it) by posting it on the board the next day with lovely graphics and a typed answer. Each question is anonymous, each answer is anonymous. The answers can be funny, strange, or extremely profound, but each one is meaningful in some way.
Last week I made a comment about loneliness. This was his response:
“I assume there are people who never feel lonely. Or apart-ness. I blame our culture, and especially MADvertising, for most of our mental health issues. We're Supposed to feel Happy if we've purchased the right beer and the right shampoo, the right car, the right scarf. Nowhere in our culture, except perhaps in art - is the message that periods of melancholy, periods of feeling apart-ness...is normal, and even healthy.
If you didn't have a sense of apart-ness from the one you love, and society - where would you find the incentive to want to understand them better? Deeper? How would you have a sense of Wonder about them? Where would you find the drive, the need, to connect? I think (as I write this) that the space between persons gives as much energy to a relationship as what is shared.”
Our world mocks solitude and apartness. If you don’t have a boyfriend or a husband, if you don’t have a lot of friends or any friends at all, you are an utter human failure. If you eat meals alone, if you study alone, if you don’t share a bedroom or a house with someone, you are a social freak. It’s as if we need relationships to define who we are, and if we don’t have any “intimate” relationships, we’re somehow less human.
Being alone and feeling lonely are two different things. Our culture likes to equate them, but this is a lie. I know many people who prefer to be alone for most of their day and only interact with others when they absolutely have to. I also know people who can’t survive unless they eat every meal with someone and have at least 50 social interactions per day. During my freshman year I was petrified of eating in the cafeteria alone and would do everything I could to make it look like I chose to be alone. I would bring books and read them, never looking up, or write nonsense in a notebook, or pretend to do homework. Now I actually look forward to meals by myself; it gives me time to catch up on personal things (like writing this rather neglected blog).
Most of us are somewhere in the middle; we need some time alone, but we also need to socialize with people on a daily basis. But college can make socialization difficult. You’re in class for most of the day. You do homework at night. You try to study with friends but find it impossible because someone is always going off on a Hawaii Five-0 tangent. So the only solution to getting things done and not flunking out is solitude.
Let’s not be afraid to be alone. And let’s not be afraid to be lonely. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you; it simply means that you are awake and aware of what it means to be human. Loneliness is part of the human experience, the human condition. And it makes us appreciate even more the time we spend with our friends and family.
The next time you feel loneliness creeping in on you, don’t just grit your teeth and grind on. Step back and observe it. Maybe even enjoy it. You are a living, feeling human being who is greatly loved by God. Treasure that.