The conversation took place many years ago far from where most of my conversations now occur. But one statement continues to haunt me.
She spoke the words in the midst of a litany of sadness I could only receive. I had no easy answers, certainly, no quick fix to offer.
On the surface so much about her life looked enviable. She had been married for many years, had grown children, and grandchildren. She had a successful career, was materially comfortable, and in reasonably good health. But inside she was unraveling. It was from the unraveling that she said,
I feel so alone.
I do not remember what I said. I imagine my response was fairly inadequate. I fear I might have tried to reassure her saying, “You are not alone; you know God is always with you.” I might have rushed to point towards all the good things in her life, the people who loved her, the successes she could list, the goals she had accomplished. I am afraid I probably gave some cheery little version of a fatuous “Buck Up Look On The Bright Side And Count Your Blessings” speech.
Today, if she sat across from me and said, “I feel so alone,” I hope I might have the grace to be quiet for a while and just hold the loneliness and desperation. I hope I would not be in a hurry to try to take away her pain, to fix it, make it all better, put a smile on her face.
Perhaps in the intervening years I have learned that pain is not the enemy. Pain can be looked at honestly and held while it does its work in my life.
But, after holding silence, I think today, confronted by the painful statement “I feel so alone”, I might respond by saying, “You are right. You are alone.”
At a human level, we are all alone. We can deny this truth; we can ignore it and spend our lives seeking to create environments that will cushion us against this deep awareness. But, nothing can change the stark fact that we are born into this world alone and we will die alone.
No matter how many human relationships we have, no matter how rich, rewarding, beautiful and long-lasting these relationships may be, there remains within us an experience of emptiness no person can fill.
Most of us are probably far enough along in the journey to know that this experience of deep need will never be satisfied by the glittering prizes the world offers. There is no kingdom created by human means that will ever be big enough to fill that sense of lack that life in these material time-bound human frames inevitably brings. But, even those of us who have given up on ambition, accomplishment, and acquisition, are still tempted by the hope that some human relationship or human affirmation might prove sufficient.
If only we could find the right person, the ideal relationship, the perfect partner, then that loneliness would dissipate, and we would find our true home in the world. And for a time, it might work. But the loneliness returns. The person to whom we look to solve the problem of aloneness lets us down. No human being can bear the weight of another person’s need.
This is why Jesus said,
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
He was seeking to cut the root of bondage in which we seek ultimate satisfaction in any human relationship. No human being can ever remove that deep wounding that causes someone to say,
I feel so alone.
If we can face honestly that deep inner feeling of emptiness and not seek to fill it with anything, we may find that we encounter a deeper truth. The deeper truth is that “alone” is ultimately only a story we tell to explain our experience of scarcity. As we let go of the fiction of this narrative, our hearts open to an abundance more true than all aloneness.
Beyond the story of aloneness, deeper than anything we can express, and more profound than any tangible experience, in a different realm of consciousness, resides the awareness that, on the deepest level, we are not alone at all. We are profoundly connected to the ultimate fullness of life that is God.
The story of “alone” is an illusion. No matter how painful and disconnected our relationships may seem, or how difficult we find human community, aloneness is not the truth of the human condition. Being is the ultimate truth and, when I open to being, I know that all life, including the dark desperate alone parts, can be held without needing to plunge into the story of alone.
I hope my long ago friend has discovered that which is more real than her painful feeling of being so alone. I pray she has found her way past that debilitating story which kept her lost in an illusion of scarcity to the reality of fullness that is the true nature of life.