There is a chapter from Catherine Doherty’s ‘In the footprints of loneliness’ in which she addresses the isolation of loneliness that comes from superficiality. She explains that if we are unable to share ourselves with others on a deep level, make an intimate connection, we consign ourselves to isolation.
To reveal yourself to another, to share your heart with someone, requires trust and courage. I understand how difficult it can be to not only let someone else into the truest, deepest part of yourself, but also offer it to another with the possibility of rejection – or even worse, to have your offering ignored.
I grew up an army brat. We moved frequently. I had many first days at a new school. Emotional and social survival demanded quick but shallow friendships. (Quick because there wasn’t much time to establish a connection, and shallow because it got left behind with the next move.) It was a way of life that encouraged superficiality, and it has been a difficult pattern to unlearn.
While I’ve learned to reach out, I still feel the loneliness of inner isolation sometimes that stems entirely from a lack intimacy in my life when I hold friends at a distance, and try to ‘keep myself to myself’. I can easily go days without talking to a soul, and slip into the habit of reticence very easily. I can recognize the signs in others, for example in the people who visit the library just for a chat – older folks, widows, widowers, or moms of wee young children. They want to be seen and heard. They are in need of connection.
Loneliness is a real poverty. Without human connections we lack relationship – communion with another. In solitude there is no help, no comfort, no guidance or accountability – all elements we need to survive intact let alone live well. How can we truly grow, learn, know ourselves, without an ‘other’ in our life we trust enough to allow access to our inner self?
Do you see lonely people in your life? Perhaps a person sitting alone at Mass, a woman on her front step, an elderly man buying tinned soup, a young person staring out a window of the bus on the way to work, a student alone at recess? Are you lonely?
Catherine’s remedy is this:
“One can slip deep down and become a patient in a mental institution, or one can also ascend and overcome the superficiality. One can really stop and look at his neighbour whoever he is, straight in the eye, and say, ‘Friend, how are you? Tell me about yourself.’”
“Loneliness should be killed. There are three wide, beautiful roads to killing loneliness. Love your God, love your neighbour, love your enemies.”