Tag Archives: loneliness

All by Myself

18380808_1524829434235903_6230348940479299584_n(1)“Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich

Our kids are grown, and my wife was out of town for the past week.  You do the math.  The house sure was empty.  I read a lot and for some diagnosable reason made the bed each morning and carried on with life’s responsibilities, but since television isn’t my thing and I rarely listen to music, other than the weird times when I carried on a conversation with myself, it sure was quiet around the house.  As they say, too quiet.

I think everyone would agree that loneliness is a terrible thing, but as Tillich noted, the English language makes room for an optimistic approach to time alone and calls it solitude.

Wendell Berry described solitude as the place where “we lose loneliness,” which is just a delightful thought.  He claims it a space where your “inner voices become audible” (tell me about it) and you sense “the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.”  It is a time and place where you reconnect with the inner you.

I don’t always like the inner me, but he deserves notice from time to time, and given the noisiness of this party called life it takes a little work to find the space.  Or your kids grow up and your wife takes a business trip.

When my dad died in 1994, I worried that my mom would be lost every day.  Turned out I was wrong.  When I spoke with her about it, she said, “I’ll be sad from time to time, but I’m not going to let myself be sad all the time.”  And for the eighteen years she had left on this planet, she was right.

Berry concluded that one emerges from solitude more useful to others: “The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”¹

In solitude, I reflected on solitude and concluded that it deserves incorporation into the rhythm of life.  But I’m sure happy to have my wife home again.

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¹ Wendell Berry, “What Are People For?: Essays” 11 (Counterpoint, 1990).

 

Alone but Not Lonely on Valentine’s Day

1“Love cares more for others than for self.” – Paul (1st Corinthians 13, MSG)

Tomorrow, on Valentine’s Day, my beautiful wife will be relaxing in a luxury hotel in Maui, which sounds fabulously romantic except for the fact that I will be at work 2500 miles away.

Sigh…

To explain, our oldest daughter teaches at a school that hosts a major fundraising event each year, and last year’s event included a trip for two to Maui as a raffle prize.  Guess who won?!  Somewhat surprisingly, she chose to take her mother along as her plus one, which I think is fantastic on multiple levels.  My wife thinks it may primarily be so that mom will pay for the non-free portions of the trip, but even if so, it is what we call a “win-win” in the negotiation business.

Except for me, that is, who will be home alone enjoying a meal prepared by my favorite Italian chef, Mr. Chef Boyardee.

In the spirit of planning ahead, my wife and I created another daughter a couple of decades ago on the off-chance that our oldest daughter won a trip for two to Maui and invited her mother along on Valentine’s Day so that I would have another beautiful person to spend time with on such a special holiday.  But that kiddo is 1100 miles away at college in Seattle.

Despite the three beautiful women in my life, I guess that I am destined to be alone this Valentine’s Day.

And yet I am genuinely happy.  Seriously.  No, I like those three human beings as much as you can like anyone ever and would love to spend time with them all, but it is so fun to stop and imagine the memories Jody and Erica will make together in Maui this week as well as how much Hillary enjoys being in Seattle.  Love does that sort of thing to you.  It produces genuine feelings of peace and joy when the objects of your love are blissfully happy without a second thought about what that means for you.

It doesn’t always look so great on paper, but I’m telling you that love is where it’s at.

Thoughts From a Side Show

side-show-2I confess that I primarily attended the Conejo Players Theatre production of Side Show on Saturday evening because my friend and colleague, Randi, had a leading role, which is plenty reason to go because she is uber-talented, but my wife was sick and needed to stay home so I probably would have missed the show had it not featured Randi.

And I confess that Side Show did not have a great run on Broadway.  Its initial run in the 1990s did not catch on, nor did its attempt at revival a couple of years ago, so the name of the musical just doesn’t have much of a draw.

But I’m sure glad I went.

Side Show is a musical loosely based on the lives of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton (1908-1969).  It is a sad but important story.  Randi and her “twin” were phenomenal in pulling off their demanding roles—imagine singing/acting/dancing/costume changing with someone literally joined at the hip!  More importantly, they effectively led their audiences to consider what it is like to be a “freak” on display.  Spoiler: It is not a life you would choose.

While we can all relate to feeling different, by very definition most of us spend more time staring at anomalies than being one.  From the homeless to the celebrities to all stops in between, all whose very existence creates material for stand-up comics have a unique challenge in this particular life, and it is easier to point, laugh, stare, critique, and/or avoid them than to pause and consider what it must be like—not to mention pause to get to know, care about, and dare I say love—those unique human beings we prefer to remain as caricatures.

My favorite moment in the musical came at the end of the first act when the twins led the “freaks” in a song titled, “Who Will Love Me As I Am?”  I think that is a question endemic to human existence.  Most of us find a safe and comfortable spot in this world to locate an answer, but not everyone does.

My deep thanks to Randi and the cast of Side Show for reminding me that everyone deserves an answer.

It’s Lonely at the Top, but It’s Not Always Quiet

1My first Los Angeles Rams game came with a free helping of déjà vu when the crowd transformed its booing of starting quarterback Case Keenum into chants of “We want Goff” in reference to Jared Goff, the rookie backup quarterback hoped to be the future of the franchise.  Goff never saw action, but the fans did their best to get him in the game.

I say déjà vu because my wife first gave me NFL tickets in 2006 for a Monday Night Football contest in old Texas Stadium with my great friend, Dave, which happened to be the game when Tony Romo replaced starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, after the crowd spent much of the first half chanting Romo’s name.  It was a little awkward for Cowboy Nation that night, not to mention Romo, when his first pass was intercepted after he ran on the field to deafening cheers.  Romo did go on to a great season, however, but I don’t think that would matter either way to the fans in Los Angeles chanting for change a decade later.

It’s lonely at the top, but it’s not always quiet.

Me, I’ve been a coach and a preacher and a dean, three professions that encounter a healthy share of critics, and I know well the convenient criticism that someone else would have made a different and better decision.

I once read that the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated are in some drawer tucked away in the bowels of the Smithsonian, and that among the assorted items is a newspaper clipping that complimented the sitting president, which is particularly interesting once you remember his unpopularity at the time.  It seems that even a great leader like Lincoln needed to remember that his efforts were not entirely unappreciated.

As I sat in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a week ago with my lovely wife and listened to the disgruntled fans voice their disgruntled-ness, I thought about what poor Case Keenum should do.  Backpacking across Europe is an option, as is a noise-canceling helmet.  Instead, I suggest that Mr. Keenum keep an encouraging note in his pocket and continue to give everything he has to his work—I don’t think he has to go so far as to avoid the theater.

This Is Life

Flipping through television channels is one of my least favorite things to do, but that is what I was doing Sunday evening when I discovered CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling,” a series that describes itself by saying that Ling “goes on a gritty, breathtaking journey to the far corners of America.” The episode I watched was more grisly than gritty as she journeyed to the L.A. County Coroner’s office (like “This is Death with Lisa Ling”).

The show was creepily captivating—and a little personal since I learned that everyone who dies in L.A. County outside of being in a hospital under physician’s care is taken to the warehouse that Ling toured for the world to see. I live in L.A. County.

I also learned that approximately eleven thousand dead bodies are processed in same warehouse each year, which if you do the math, is a lot. The crazy number is at least understandable since L.A. County is the most populous county in the nation (ten million people!), which is like Arkansas plus Mississippi plus Oklahoma (or, for easy math, the nation of Sweden). But still. That thirty dead people on average show up there every day is just difficult to imagine.

Ling introduced viewers to several employees filling several roles at the Coroner’s, and in so doing, basically walked us through the entire process. In particular, we followed the path of the unidentified dead, from the search for family members to the eventual cremation of those whose families cannot be found.

I mean, it was a fun show. Sort of a new Addams Family!

No, it was heartbreaking. Until, that is…

At the end of the hour, Ling shared that the Coroner’s office periodically hosts a multi-faith service in Evergreen Cemetery to honor the unidentified, which sadly numbered over a thousand at the one featured on our television screen. That part was still heartbreaking. The heart-mending part for me was the point Ling made that although these souls died alone, their ashes are honored in community.

That part—the honoring of all people in community—fits the name of Ling’s show. That is what life is all about if you ask me. Now, if we can just work backward and honor the lonely while they are still alive, we will have arrived at someplace worthwhile.