It’s that iridescent time in which Shabbat is almost over and there’s nothing left to do; with children in bed and my mouth tired of talking, I head out to a nearby park bench and wait for the clock to run itself out.
In that space of hefker time, I find myself wondering about loneliness.
I just finished reading The Atlantic article “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?”, in which reported feelings of intense loneliness, correlating with iPhone use, skyrocketed in the last decade.
I ask myself, on a park bench, in the middle of a crowded city, as passerbys smile gently at me, proving their solidarity, “Am I lonely?”
I know the answer is “yes”, but I also know it’s a soft yes. I’m not worried. There are many levels of loneliness, and throughout my years, I’ve visited them all.
There’s the soul-crushing panicky loneliness, the one imploded by fear, a daggers-pinching conviction to the heart that no one is around. This extreme loneliness flashes signals of red danger to my mind, and in this state, I abandon myself in the panic and despise myself, too.
Then there’s the nervous, twitchy loneliness, the kind that sends me on social media to look for connection, to search for likes and indications that I am loved and needed. The kind that unsteadies me as I fall onto my couch, a painful, gaping hole in my stomach, as I try to find some seeds of hope to fill me.
And then there’s the soft, faint, dignified loneliness, an awareness of too much time spent within one’s own head, too few words of experience shared with close friends, close acquaintances, or anyone except for one’s journal, one’s blog, or one’s wall. It’s a loneliness that longs for the laughter and the optimism that comes from being in close proximity to others. This loneliness is functional, but it’s not self-actualizing.
And finally, rests a loneliness born from a sensation of differentness. The heart is split in two; half connected and half distant and alone.
It is this form of loneliness that pervades over my sense of being. It feels like this loneliness is going to be around for a while, and that it would be wise for me to get used to it.
How many of us feel that we don’t fit in? That we are surrounded by Others? Could it be all of us, for different reasons, in different ways? Could it be that this is The Experience of our generation, and we should discover ways to capitalize on it, rather than trying to push, drink, or drug ourselves away from it? Could it be a pathway to a greater sense of unity with ourselves and our spirit?
Most jarring of all, or perhaps a function of this, lies these political times.
I try to forget about it, often times successfully living in a cloud of denial and reconciliation, when I visit friends who I love dearly, who are good, kind, smart people, yet whose political and worldly opinions terrify and trouble me.
I try to move past it. I try not to think about it. I think about what worlds and opinions we do share, on that which we build together.
We laugh about simpler things, debate about separate things, and I know in these moments that love and light are paramount, that everything else we connect about is important and secure. I feel safe, knowing these people are just a phone call away in times of desperation.
But when I leave the room and return back to my own, turning on the news, the jarring feeling of aloneness reappears, and I know it never truly left. That if push comes to shove, if Gd forbid we had to choose sides, when real lives were on the line in the most real way, I would have to be okay with being on my own, with separating myself, with just my heart, beliefs, and actions guiding my way. I would have to be okay with knowing that our connection may be temporary.
I know that this has been the truth of our past, that in every generation there are hard choices to make that separate us from those we love, that may result in never reconciling, and that I must choose my conscience over my desire for feeling supported. I know that when actions have to be taken that result in isolation from a community, it may be generations before the validity of that action is understood and celebrated, if at all.
Every week, I travel between many worlds, between a world that considers me liberal, an envelope-pusher, and a world that views me as strict and conservative, an unnecessary boundary-putter-upper.
Perhaps we all find ourselves pin-balling within these incongruent worlds, albeit for different reasons.
There is great loneliness in this sense of differentness. A deep, existential loneliness.
But also, I believe, a deep, existential closeness.
For in accepting upon myself the inevitable yoke of loneliness with humans, I have attached myself to the greater bond and safety in ideas, in Truth as I understand it, in Gd and His path for me.
This attachment and self-companionship can fill me up for days with bright light, with warm, fuzzy feelings. I pump myself with optimistic literature, whisper words of encouragement to those who hold as I do, and search for beads of connection. I resolve to build up my own reserves for self-connection, meditation, and inner peace.
Loneliness seems inevitable. No smartphone or community can salvage us from sitting in it. The world is splitting further and further apart, and we must choose sides. There is no neutrality here. I collect more Facebook friends by the day, but I know at any moment, they might all disappear. This is not my reason for living.
Loneliness is on the rise, at all levels, and perhaps for good reason.
Perhaps in that hole of Otherness, it’s making space for our inner vitality to find more comfort in itself than it has for millennia, or ever.
Perhaps it is a signal not to just reach outside of ourselves for connection and support, but to invest deeper in ourselves, our breath, and our constantly singing spirit.