Loneliness, One of Mankind's Most Common Experiences
When You're Lonely
Loneliness is what you would consider an emotional paradox. You do not have to be alone to feel lonely, and even though it is a solitary emotion to the one suffering, it is one of those feelings that have been experienced by almost everyone universally. We have all been drawn into this magnet of doubt, sadness, and longing to be appreciated for who we truly are. Back in 1990 I wrote a poem one night, I don’t why I wrote it, but I was bitten by this universal feeling, loneliness. The poem is entitled “When You’re Lonely” and it goes as follows:
When you’re lonely the whole world seems to have company but you are alone.
When you’re lonely and you see a group of people they only seem friendly to each other, but to you they are strangers.
When you’re lonely and you see a couple they seem closer to one another as you stand so far from everyone.
Every word of blame that others tell you of your plight,
Every circumstance that only reinforces that you are alone,
Drives a dagger of solitude deeper and deeper into your heart causing the pain of when you’re lonely.
I wrote this one night while ordering a pizza, I was alone, and thoughts of solitude flooded my mind, and I just had to write this poem. It seems I’m not alone in feeling this way. I sent it to World of Poetry and was even given a Golden Poet for this Poem back in 1991.
Loneliness has been a common theme for many writers. The Beatles wrote “Eleanor Rigby” also known by many as “All the Lonely People.” Gilbert O’Sullivan wrote “Alone Again Naturally” back in 1971. “Alone Again Naturally” became a top forty hit. It describes loneliness in its entirety. The first stanza describes a young man, who has been jilted at the alter by his bride to be, and wants to die. This young man goes on to describe how his life was defined by loneliness, how it robbed him of happiness since childhood. He even blames God for his plight. You can sense the desperate state of the writer in the following verse:
think that only yesterday
I was cheerful, bright and gay
Looking forward to well wouldn’t do
The role I was about to play
But as if to knock me down
Reality came around
And without so much, as a mere touch
Cut me into little pieces
Leaving me to doubt
Talk about God and His mercy
Or if He really does exist
Why did He desert me in my hour of need
I truly am indeed Alone again, naturally
It seems to me that there are more hearts
broken in the world that can’t be mended
What do we do? What do we do?
In the next verse, you can see that the writer’s discontent is felt even more greatly.
Now looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears
I remember I cried when my father died
Never wishing to hide the tears
And at sixty-five years old
My mother, God rest her soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken
Leaving her to start with a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me
No words were ever spoken
And when she passed away
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally
Alone again, naturally
Loneliness, what seems to everyone like a unique feeling, is really a universal experience.
In the book titled Unhappy Secrets of The Christian Life by Phillip Yancey and Tim Stafford, loneliness is referred to as “The Magnet,” according to the authors, there are several categories of loneliness.
The first category is “terminal loneliness”; this is when the sufferer has a poor self image. Sometimes this image is the result of real physical impediments, such as a club foot, being severely obese, having to wear a leg brace, or even something as common as glasses. It can also be an imaginary impediment such as a feeling of inferiority due to some incident earlier in that person’s life. Whatever the cause, this is the type of loneliness, where the sufferer chooses to withdraw from humanity. Avoidance is a common tool of emotional defense for those who suffer from this type of loneliness. This person lives surrounded by high emotional walls, and is usually impossible to reach.
The second category described in Unhappy Secrets of The Christian Life is referred to as “imposed loneliness”. The sufferer normally does not start out as a social recluse. This person is often a victim of some unfortunate event that embarrasses them, or injures them psychologically, to the point of avoiding other people. The person, who suffers from this brand of loneliness purposely, avoids people in order to protect themselves from another incident that could cripple them emotionally to even a greater degree, leaving them unable to function socially.
The third category of loneliness is referred to as “aggressive loneliness.” Most people know the person that fits this category of loneliness as the class clown, the social misfit that is always calling attention to herself, and everybody’s joke. This is the type of person that calls attention to themselves by laughing the loudest, doing crazy pranks, trying to be the first one on the grapevine, and simply being outrageous at every opportunity. This type of person would rather have negative attention then simply be ignored. They simply lack the maturity to stand alone. These individuals are the ones, who are so greatly injured on an emotional level that their growth is hindered.
Then there’s deliberate loneliness. This is the type of person, who chooses to forego fellowship with others for a higher purpose. They are the ones, who will not go to a party, simply to be of service to a friend. This type of loneliness is not due to any type of personal handicap, but rather due to unselfish devotion to the good of others. This type of individual will never really be lonely, because even when they are alone, they can find contentment within themselves.
Loneliness is often talked about in scripture. In the book of Job, he describes better times, when he was Mr. Popularity. He says the following in Job 29:7-11
“Those were the days when I went to the city gate
and took my place among the honored leaders.
8 The young stepped aside when they saw me,
and even the aged rose in respect at my coming.
9 The princes stood in silence
and put their hands over their mouths.
10 The highest officials of the city stood quietly,
holding their tongues in respect.
11 “All who heard me praised me.
All who saw me spoke well of me.
As you can see from this passage, when a person is wealthy and doing well they tend to have many friends. Job’s circumstances had changed and his social status has also changed radically. This is evident in Job 30:1-15
1“But now I am mocked by people younger than I,
by young men whose fathers are not worthy to run with my sheepdogs.
2 A lot of good they are to me—
those worn-out wretches!
3 They are gaunt with hunger
and flee to the deserts,
to desolate and gloomy wastelands.
4 They pluck wild greens from among the bushes
and eat from the roots of broom trees.
5 They are driven from human society,
and people shout at them as if they were thieves.
6 So now they live in frightening ravines,
in caves and among the rocks.
7 They sound like animals howling among the bushes,
huddled together beneath the nettles.
8 They are nameless fools,
outcasts from society.
9 “And now they mock me with vulgar
They taunt me!
10 They despise me and won’t come near me,
except to spit in my face.
11 For God has cut my bowstring.
He has humbled me,
so they have thrown off all restraint.
12 These outcasts oppose me to my face.
They send me sprawling
and lay traps in my path.
13 They block my road
and do everything they can to destroy me.
They know I have no one to help me.
14 They come at me from all directions.
They jump on me when I am down.
15 I live in terror now.
My honor has blown away in the wind,
and my prosperity has vanished like a cloud.
In the previous verses Job describes the change in his social status. He is no longer Mr. Popularity; instead he is the man that is treated with contempt by even the riff raff. There is a universal truth here. People do tend to kick others when they are down. People tend to cling on to the wealthy and beautiful people. Popularity is not common in the life of the very poor. Most people prefer those who can invite them to a good party to those who are struggling. Of course, a true friend is there even in the hardest of times.
Loneliness is has been the subject of many famous quotes. Charles Caleb Colton said the following about loneliness: To dare to live alone is the rarest courage; since there are many who had rather meet their bitterest enemy in the field, than their own hearts in their closet." It takes a great deal of courage to confront one’s innermost feelings. Some people would rather deal with an enemy in the physical realm than wrestle with their own inner demons. Loneliness is often categorized as a demon, a feeling to be avoided at all cost. Painful feelings, even if they are common to all people are often avoided. According to Thomas Wolfe there are some redeeming qualities to loneliness. He states the following: The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.". According to Wolfe, loneliness is considered a cure to another problem, the problem of vanity.
Whether we consider this universal emotion a friend or a foe it is part of everyone’s life. We have all experienced this emotion to one extent. Loneliness is part of the human experience and a great teacher. It teaches the value of company, whether that company be family, friends or a significant other. Next time you feel this universal emotion remember you are not alone.