Monday, January 22, 2007

Lonely


The café is half-full, and the hum of conversation circles the room. Every so often, people stroll in through the doors, and inevitably, it’s another couple. I can’t help but look into every face, hoping for a sign of recognition. A smile. Something. Sunday nights are never easy for me, though I am not sure why. More than anything however, it is the sense of aloneness that affects me. During the week, with my time split between work and my class and my writing, the rhythms are much quicker and more engulfing, and they take me away from the quiet somberness that inflicts itself upon my Sunday nights. And now, if another couple walks through those doors holding hands and laughing, I’m pretty sure I’m going to ask them to stop it already.

Can they please be "so happy together" somewhere else?

It’s a ridiculous thought and nearly drags a smile onto my face. But anyone who's ever been single, except for the occasional happy eunuch, knows exactly what I’m talking about. The Bible says it is not good for men to be alone (written of course, to mean specifically men, because every woman who has entered the café tonight has come with a friend or boyfriend). I concur. It is not good for me to be alone. Unfortunately, my agreement with Scripture does not seem to be changing my circumstances. At least, not tonight, which is when I am hoping for my prayer to be answered.

I think it's worse for single people when you've opened the door to the possibility, when you've met someone who you think will contend for the 'lifetime companion' award, only to have that door slammed in your face. And sometimes, you don't even know why. Is it God? Is it fate? Both answers are difficult, and meditating on them for any length of time produces an even greater sense of loneliness, as they do now. Somehow, it is much more difficult to convince myself that singleness is okay tonight, and for the moment I am lost in an aimless, internal rant against women and marriage and love. Screw everyone, I want to shout. I. Am. Fine!

I decide to step outside and spend a little time breathing the fresh air and searching for new illumination. Once out the doors, however, it is almost too cold to think. I spastically wander around the front of the café like a man who has just escaped a mental institution but suddenly realizes he does not want to leave. Rest assured, I do not have to worry about attracting company.

I’m not sure that I want to hang out with me, either.

Within three minutes, I'm back inside. Considering that it took me that long to put on my jacket and coat and scarf and toque and gloves, and takes me that long again to undress, I’m pretty happy that no one asks me to leave the store because I’m scaring the customers. Which is fine, but does nothing for me, because I feel like I’m scaring myself.

The crazy thing is about my aloneness is that it’s a clear case of ‘mea culpa’. It’s not like I can’t call someone. It’s not like I don't know any other humans on this planet. My cell phone, a recent development and artistic cave-in, is in my pocket. Strange, in a society so concerned about getting connected, how disconnected we have become. Strange, that in such a rich society and a global community where everything is at our fingertips such as ours, how many people feel so alone.

How many people are lonely?

Unfortunately, perhaps because of our wealth, we have a tendency to react negatively to people who are lonely. Just reach out, we want to tell them. Just call someone. What do you want us to do about it?

I'm thinking about this because there is a ridiculous aspect to my lonely feelings. In spite of the fact I have some tremendous friends, there nudges the thought that maybe I don’t deserve their friendship. That maybe they will reject me. That maybe I will never marry and will spend my life writing in cafes and watching happy couples walk by.

I am back at my laptop, hidden behind a post. My coffee is lukewarm. The couple at the table next to me is holding hands and smiling a lot. I look at their hands, but somehow they repel my invisible separation ray and remain locked together. I turn back to the screen. Studies show that the richest continent on the earth (North America) is also the loneliest. Tragedy and poverty and need force people to depend on one another, and in turn, drives community by forcing people to interact. Riches and wealth and security do the opposite. (I always wonder why no one ever mentions this when they preach the prosperity gospel. “Come, be rich and be lonely!”) I am not preaching poverty, although one could argue that Jesus did.

A girl walks by and I’m praying that she doesn’t smile at me. I might end up giving away my home tonight if anyone simply talks to me. As I watch the people around me, I can’t help but wonder if they feel the same way I do. I wonder if in spite of their outward cheeriness, that if they feel inside like they're the only person in the room. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I’m approaching my Sunday night struggles the right way. Maybe the idea is not to sit and wait for someone to affirm me. Maybe the idea is for me to affirm someone else.

It strikes me how easily one can lapse into egocentrism. How easily we allow these crazy thoughts to enter our heads and allow loneliness to settle onto our spirits. Especially me. Sure, we all have moments where self-doubt and loneliness collide. Some of us more than others. And reaching out to others does not guarantee that all of our struggles with it will be cured. But at least, I think, it's a start.

I pack up my computer. Before I leave I look over at the happy couple and their hands, still locked together. Good luck, guys, take care of one another. I head out, and in a strange moment of magic, my loneliness vanishes as I pull out my cell.

Time to reach out and touch some people…

-Steve