Sometimes it is easy to spot; sometimes it is hidden behind a statue with angelic features and character set in stone. But I can see it in my eyes sometimes when I look in the mirror. I can see it in the eyes of a coworker–staring into his cellphone, sipping coffee, mumbling something as he goes to the back to get more tomatoes. I can see it in my mother’s eyes at the end of a seventeen hour day, when children crouch behind slammed doors and words hang in the heavy air. I can see it in my friend’s eyes as he fingers the heart-shaped cutouts in the craft store–I can hear it in his voice every time he talks about love.
Sometimes it isn’t even obvious. It is a shadow that can sneak up in a lonely apartment or at a party surrounded by strangers. It is vague, like a gray shape that trails behind each person–sometimes we remember it and sometimes we don’t. It is a sense of emptiness…desperation…searching…longing….
hoping….wishing…wondering. It is crying over a sad country song in the car on a rainy day; it is sighing during a wedding, but not from happiness; it is the ache that is felt in graveyards and ICU units and military units in foreign lands. It screams and it whispers–it has its own voice and yet derives life from circumstances. It is the college student alone on a curb after a breakup; it is the single mother trying to convince her teenage daughter that she is beautiful; it is the man in the burn ward, remembering the family he was trying to save; it is the pastor whose church is falling apart; it is the child who hears his parents fight from behind his bedroom door at night; it is the person with the ordinary life, the ordinary job, the ordinary family and friends, still carrying this shadow close to her heart.
The strangest characteristic of loneliness is that we crave companionship, friendship…but people do not fill the void. The shadow can be felt as strongly among friends laughing over coffee as it can by oneself with an americano and a newspaper. This shadow burns within our souls and begs a breath of air to snuff it out….but somehow whether with others or by ourselves there is no wind strong enough to silence the flame. It drags on, as we do. It is part of us, this shadow. It is shaped like us, but without our passions, character, personality, and dreams. It is lifeless, soulless, and it would make us like it if it could….a ghost.
Sadly, loneliness cannot be escaped. Not through money, marriage, position, career, success, friendship, or desire. We wish it could. We wish there was an escape. We greatly desire and yet greatly fear the notion that someone could see inside our heads, know our hearts, and love every part of us. It would make us vulnerable, but it would make us whole. It would fill us up and drain us out. It would not erase the shadow but would produce a light so brilliant that we could not look away.
But it would not erase the shadow….
Because maybe we need loneliness…the unsolved mystery that cannot be solved with its own solution. Maybe we need it because it is the key to our deepest desires–the vague longings that poison our hearts and heal them. Maybe we need loneliness so we know that even we cannot figure ourselves out. Maybe we need loneliness to remember that we are pieces in an incomplete puzzle…and the top of the box is hidden somewhere in eternity.
Maybe we need loneliness…to somehow come to the bittersweet conclusion that we are alone and at the same time never alone.
Maybe we need loneliness to come to the point of desperation…
Maybe we need loneliness so that we never give up….because it gives us hope that there is something else that can fix the vague brokeness that is so much more than shattered candy hearts.
Maybe loneliness is not a mere diagnosis, but the drive that keeps us turning the pages to the last chapter….for loneliness is not despair, depression, or derangement. It is purely the realization that there is more out there…somewhere…someone….something….that will satisfy that soul-craving. It is the awakening that makes us realize that we are incomplete….the force that demands that we do not stop until we find our Completer.
And maybe, someday, we will look back and say, “Because of loneliness, I found what I was searching for.”
Where shall I go from Your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.”
Meditation on Loneliness