Five women gathered. They arrived at the table from different seasons, different backgrounds, different experiences. They shared their lives, shared small and great triumphs, shared their fears, and shared their failures. The prepared cards asked searching questions about loneliness.
We struggle to talk about loneliness in our culture, even as we try to insulate ourselves from the experience. We admitted that a crowd with no belonging is the loneliest place. So, we bury our heads in our phones, our books, our magazines, ourselves. We avoid the going, to avoid being alone. I find it excruciating to stand, vulnerable in a crowd hoping to be noticed, for recognition. Yet, even in familiar crowds, we admit this experience.
Isolation is the breeding ground for loneliness. That feeling that I’m the only one. The only one whose shrill voice rakes over vulnerable children or pokes at the weaknesses of the one I promised to love forever. The only one who feels like half a cup in a room full of bounty. The only one who looks at the images on Facebook and falls short inside. The only one whose dress size measures both too much and not enough. Isolation spurs us to pretend all is well, to save face, to put on the show. No one likes a loser, so we pretend to win. We pretend to have it all and be it all. Until we can’t anymore, and the weight of the illusion crushes us.
Loneliness can give way to despair… to loss of hope, and purpose, and meaning. In moments of my life, I have given way. Lost.
I recognize it sometimes in the eyes of others. My soul responds to despair with a low sense of knowing. You can’t pull someone out of despair, you must meet them there in the lonely. You can order pizza and play a thousand games of Scrabble. You can look pain and loss in the face, and add your tears to theirs. You can sit quietly and listen to the silence. In my experience, the only antidote to despair is recognition. To be seen, to be heard, to be loved right in the midst of the brokenness.
Around this table, we decide month after month to breach the isolation and experience the not aloneness. Month after month, day after day, we share our lives, our challenges, our cares. There are risks we acknowledge and sometimes dare not. But when we gather, there is a chance for connection. We dare to say the true things and find the quiet recognition that we are not alone.