Monday, May 3, 2010

Lonely People - Where Do They All Belong?

One of the Beatles’ songs asks:
"All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"

People assume that the lonely people are those who live alone.

There is an infinite variety of solitudes. All the bachelors and spinsters, widows, widowers, students and starving artists, remnants of failed marriages, or failed careers.

And some of them are lonely. I live alone. Sometimes I am lonely.

Multitudes who live with others are also lonely.

Much of my married life – even when consumed by the needs of my young children – was desperately lonely.

Mine was not the only such marriage.

A crowded household does not prevent loneliness.

In a way, loneliness is built into this country’s culture: the prototypes of rugged individualism, self-reliance, and personal initiative.

A lot of that is good. But it also generates a lot of loneliness.

Our species did not start out like this. The human race began in groups, clans, tribes, and villages. When a parent or spouse or child was lost, the others just closed ranks, filled in whatever empty spaces had developed (or found an appropriate ice flow).

In many cultures – like Japan I think – the group (whether village or corporation) is valued above the individual.

My first assignment outside North America was in Guatemala. My local contact and I developed an excellent and cordial working relationship. But he was utterly baffled by my descriptions of my solitary life – divorced, pushing children out of the nest, dealing with parents who were also divorced. His household included three generations in largely symbiotic harmony.

In this country, citizens seem increasingly isolated. Then we wonder about crime rates.


Other cultures, seeking perceived wealth, now tend to emulate our country’s patterns.

Probably not a good idea.

What’s the answer?

I’m not the best person to ask. But I can still guess. I observe myself coming more alive when I am in my particular group or my congregational community.

That’s the magic ‘c’ word, community -- not virtual communities like Facebook but good old-fashion interpersonal relationships.

This can happen even in America.

It can happen if we begin to seek it out, build it up. Create it if we have to. Wherever we live – whether or not we live alone – we can acknowledge people on the fringes, bring them in. We can look others in the eyes and listen to their stories and, lo! we will discover how much we have in common.

If we would begin to do this (ah! a mammoth ‘if’) if more and more of us did this, it is just possible that fewer and fewer people would live lonely.

And, someday that poignant Beatle’s song would make no sense at all.

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