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For the longest time, I (not unlike three-quarter of the world’s population) thought they were means to ease loneliness – fears and ache of being by oneself.Let me tell you what I’ve discovered since I got married three years ago: even though I enjoy intimate moments in my marriage, I would still sometimes experience real painful loneliness.
After much chasing around the bush of heartache, disappointment, rejection and abandonment, for much of my young adult life, I finally discovered (thanks to a friend that I would consider rather wise) that everybody is lonely in some way. That was quite an enlightenment and relief at the same time.
I remember when I was single, occasionally I would meet people who'd sympathise with me -- they reckoned that since I’m single, I must be lonely. Well, yes, and no.
You see, the deal is this -- the single is commonly perceived as the lonely lot but so are the rest of the people alive. The single is lonely in one way, the married in another; the schoolteacher, the mother, the bankteller and others. It’s true. If you don’t believe me, the next time you go to the bank, ask the teller; or the toll booth attendant.
But is there a reason why we should feel so lonely? Are we really alone? They say, “No man is an island.” But, if we are not islands, why do we feel so alone? If we are "part of the main," why do we so often feel like we are estranged?
Why is it that in spite of - or sometimes, more tragically, because of - our most gut-wrenching efforts to belong and to participate in the sharing of camaraderie or friendship or love, we experience a deep and disturbing distance? The sense of aloneness somehow seems to permeate our existence. Sometimes it subtly, almost unnoticeably lies in the shadows of our consciousness but sometimes it dominates. It is when it dominates that we finally have to unwillingly surrender to it and painfully admit defeat -- confess that we are lonely – as if to actually feel lonely is a highly embarrassing and unnatural thing.
Or more important (and more unnerving), why would any answer to this question give us little or no consolation? Why does "knowing why" offer so little relief? And our need for intimacy - so hard to find and to share and yet so necessary for a satisfying life?
I'm not sure if I can answer this but what I do know is that no man is an island, we are not alone. My failures, my achievements, my strengths and weaknesses reach beyond the space of “me” - they affect people in my periphery. Whether or not I feel it, my life - every life - touches other lives. We are joined in a responsibility to together make this world a good one for all of us. Each of us warms the world or chills it inasmuch as we offer or withhold respect, kindness, support, love, or truth. In that sense we are all parts of each other's well-being and/or sickness, and we affect the space that we all share.
I guess that is why when we try to look for relief from loneliness in friendship, we end up frustrating the relationship and stifling the other person. The result – we are abandoned (again!), hurt and the tenderness of our hearts hardened further.
But we are also alone. It said that "each heart knows its own bitterness, and none else can share its joy." We each have some identity that is separate (and that separates us) from the community. We are individuals, unique in ourselves. We are responsible for our choices, capable of amazing creativity, good but also evil and destruction.
So, in conclusion, maybe loneliness is a part of our experience and perhaps friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things, and loneliness live together in the same experience. The experience of the living.
So, what do we do while we live?
Maybe we should learn and try to love one another, enjoy each other's company, share in the common work, and endure each other's failures. This will not cure our aloneness, so let's not ask that of each other. We must also learn to not be afraid of a very necessary aloneness as in our solitude we may encounter the unexpected joy.