But as an adult, I now recognise that loneliness is no respecter of persons or relationships. Most of those times that loneliness has weighed heaviest on me are moments when I am quite literally surrounded by people. Because there is not just one type of loneliness. There are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of lonelinesses.
There is the loneliness of being in the middle of a crowd that is engaged in watching or singing or being, and you are somehow disconnected from it all. There is the loneliness of being at a gathering where everyone is sharing and talking and laughing, but you can't speak because tears are close to the surface and to speak would make them spill over. Then there is its counterpart, that other, seemingly irrational loneliness that hopes someone will intuitively know what's up, seek you out, help -- care.
There is the loneliness of evolving friendships, of someone who was once very dear in your life slowly moving out of it. There is the loneliness of not having someone's hand to hold as the clock ticks over midnight and the fireworks blaze up into technicolour life. There is the loneliness of heading north while everyone else is headed south. There is the loneliness of someone saying "I wish I could help you," and then the deeper loneliness of someone saying, "I don't want to help you."
There is loneliness in unfulfilled expectations. There is loneliness in having to keep quiet when you want to speak. There is loneliness in fighting a battle that no one else around you is fighting. There is loneliness in the dying off of traditions. There is loneliness in frailty and loneliness in weakness. There is the loneliness of someone laughing at your dream, and the loneliness of endless rain.
There are perhaps as many different lonelinesses as there are happinesses, and each one of them feels like a small death -- a death of belonging, a death of hope, a death of security. But perhaps that is the very thing that is redemptive about loneliness, too: that just as it can come out of nowhere and make your throat tighten with unfelt feelings and uncried tears, so too can happiness. Just as unexpected, just as powerful.
In the loneliness, though, joy feels far away. Joy feels impossible. In those moments, I have to talk to my soul, to remind it that tomorrow, or next week, or next month, the sun will come out. I remind my soul that loneliness is a side effect of being human. I'm lonely because I'm alive -- which is, after all, the complete opposite of death.
[this post was inspired by the Life Captured Project]