“If you come back to church next Sunday and one thing has changed for the better, what would it be?” Among the many responses to that final question from a congregational survey, one stood out:
“Someone will know my name.”
In the ten years since reading those words, I’ve noticed how loneliness sucks life out of living. The crushing loneliness that stalks its prey within every empty heart leaves behind a depth of pain that people will do anything to slake.
I think that’s why a line from Delia Owens’ first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, pierced my heart when I heard it. While I usually read books, my frequent trips between Kentucky and Virginia during my recent move provoked me to listen to something other than the endless news cycle, itself a source and symptom of the loneliness that plagues so many.
I hope you will read Where the Crawdads Sing, as it’s a marvelous story. (I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t tell me how it ends!) The main character is a girl named Kya, one who is well-acquainted with loneliness. As one scene plays out, the narrator lets us in on Kya’s mindset:
She knew that no part of this yearning made sense. Illogical behavior to fill an emptiness would not fulfill much more.
And then she wonders, “How much do you trade to defeat loneliness?”
That question torments me. How much do you trade to defeat loneliness?
It didn’t take long for me to count the ways.
By failing to listen to others by speaking too much.
By taking up all of the oxygen in a room so that I would be seen.
By laughing at jokes that betrayed my values and my beliefs in hopes that I would fit in.
By remaining silent when I should have spoken.
How many ways have I traded my deepest sense of who I am in some desire to be loved, to be welcomed, to not feel so alone?
But then I realized that I could also ask the question another way. How much do I trade to defeat loneliness–not my own, but someone else’s?
Could I trade a comfortable conversation with people I know well to invite a newcomer to join us?
Could I trade another Seinfeld rerun to step outside and chat with my neighbors?
Could I trade an unyielding desire to finish whatever I’m doing in the moment to be present with someone who would otherwise be alone?
Crushing loneliness is, ironically, not something we can accomplish alone. To put the burden of defeating loneliness on the one being attacked seems impractical, even unfair.
Telling someone to just make friends or to just put themselves out there or to not be such a downer doesn’t move them any closer to defeating their loneliness. But your kindness, your presence, your well-timed moments of grace for another? Those are the things that loneliness cannot stand.