Loneliness - An Extential Experience for All Humans
September 22, 2022 | View PDF
‘Loneliness’ is perhaps the most primitive of all human emotions.
The Bible tells us this. God saw that man was alone. Giving him a partner in the form of a woman was the solution to it. Some people see even the creation of humans itself as an effort from the part of God, in order to escape from God’s own loneliness. Let’s look at it this way.
The creation story in Genesis tells us that in five days God created everything – the earth, the Sun, the sky, the stars, the planets, the rivers and the seas, the hills and the valleys, the flowers, the fruits, and so on. At the end of each of the first five days of creation, God saw everything created as ‘good.’ But still, none of this would make anyone really happy. And God’s experience was not different.
To experience real happiness, we require the presence of someone with whom we can relate. That is the reason, we might assume, that God created man on the sixth day. Interestingly, after creating humans, God did not say that it was good. Maybe it is because we must consider that humans’ goodness is not anything that is to be static. It is a process. It is dynamic. It needs to emerge day by day. It needs to get better day by day. In any case, whether humans are the solution for God’s problem of loneliness, and whether companions and partners are the solution for the loneliness of humans, we know that somewhere at the deepest level of our existence, loneliness remains as something unavoidable.
During our life span from birth to death, everyone must pass through this experience, sometime or other. Your small kid protesting with a loud cry when you leave her for your job, is powerfully communicating to you that she badly wants your presence around her all the time. It comes from her fear of being lonely without you.
And when your dad asks you whether you would make a visit to him at the weekend to the nursing home where he is confined to, it is for you to recognize that perhaps he is going through a terrible period of loneliness.
But what is loneliness actually? Although it is not easy to define, it is an inner experience when someone feels that he or she is totally insignificant. It is a thought that my life is not anything meaningful in respect to that of others. It further suggests that others would still be living their lives without my significant involvement with them. All people always engage in a drive to cross over their own experience of loneliness. People who engage in a series of entertainments, shopping, social services, religious activities etc. are all some way or other trying to overcome their own loneliness.
A lot of discussions are centered around this existential phenomenon called loneliness, in academic circles. Millions of Arts and literature works in human history have depicted clear, and vivid expressions of loneliness in manifold ways.
‘No Man is an Island’ is the title of one of the most beautiful books of Thomas Merton. In it, he extensively describes how humans are meant to be in the company of each other.
One of the means of getting over loneliness is to have a clarity over our interpersonal relationships. Most people, most often relate to the world around them as ‘I – It’. According to Martin Buber, an existential philosopher, when we are able to relate to the world as ‘I – Thou’, our loneliness is likely to diminish. Buber would define even marriage as ‘taking the other seriously’. Unfortunately, caught up in a ‘use and throw culture’, there are people in our society who consistently consider others as objects to make use of, for personal, selfish benefits. When we begin to act in such manner, there will be no room in this world for compassion, empathy, understanding, or concern for others.
Further, it is important to remember that not only the losers feel loneliness but even the so-called winners do feel the same. Psychologists speak of a disease called ‘Destination Sickness’ which is an experience of an infinite vacuum inside of a person which cannot be filled up with anything finite. But for us Christians, what gives us infinite amount of joy is that Jesus our Lord too recognized his loneliness and went through it just like one of us.
He became a human like us in everything except sin (Hebrews 4:15). Is it not a consoling statement? Jesus experienced his loneliness as an element of spiritual poverty. He moved into areas where people were spiritually poor. His eyes caught their attention, his hands extended to them. When he brought back to life the son of a widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-17), Jesus perhaps knew ahead of time the pain of his own mother Mary who would go through the same experience at his death. When he healed the man who was paralyzed for thirty-eight years and waited for someone to take him to the pool (John 5:1-7), Jesus knew the extent of loneliness that that man had gone through for such a long time.
Are we making efforts to respond to the loneliness of people around us, even if it is (selfishly) to overcome our own loneliness?
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church