Life Preserver for the Lonely

On March 13, 2020, I was finishing the day with a kindergarten class. What was something we  were each looking forward to or wishing for this weekend? As we went around the circle, “I  wish spring break was starting today!†said one of the students. I took a deep breathe,  essentially “spring break†was starting today, but I didn’t say a word because they did not yet  know that this would be the day they learned what a pandemic is.  

Do you wish you could reach into the future to grab hold of the studies that will be done and  books that will be written about this time we’re living in? I do. The events of 2020 are so far  reaching, intertwined and complex, it’s hard to really comprehend. When everything shut down  so suddenly, there was a part of me that let out a sigh of relief that life was slowing down.  Often joked about ‘slow this ride down, so I can get off’ and here it was. The ride was  stopped. Now what? 

Wide spread reflection, reevaluations, creative solutions, mixed in with real struggles, fears and  a very real loneliness. Now, loneliness didn’t make its debut in 2020. As Carl Jung said,  “Loneliness doesn’t come from having no people around you, but from being unable to  communicate the things that seem important to you.†With that definition, loneliness has  literally been around as long as humanity has. Isolation though has helped to expose the  evolving effects of loneliness that ultimately lead to a sense that one is misunderstood, feels  that they don’t belong or that they simply are not liked or loved. That’s pretty deep. 

Yet, that’s where a lot of people are at. It’s human tendency to self evaluate whether we are in a  good place mentally and emotionally. Yet, the real revelation comes when you realize that many  people that you deal with throughout the day are not whole. What do you do with that? 

The simplest answer, listen. It seems so easy and yet somehow, it’s so perfect. Listen to  successful people, to homeless people, to pastors and counselors, to neighbors and strangers,  to family and salespeople, to children and seniors. There’s no need to answer, to solve or  question. To just take a moment and listen seems to mean the world to people. To just be a  landing space for people to communicate the things that seems important to them is enough.  No real skill or insight needed. The real secret, have no opinion – just listen, absorb, consider,  reflect, honor. That’s it. It seems so simple and yet it’s a life preserver for the lonely.  

While I’m certain that the early school break did not look like my student had imagined it  would, I do hope that through this time off, she had someone in her life to listen to what was  important to her, that they took the time to look in her eyes and hear her heart while they listened to her words. I hope they thought about what she said enough to consider her  questions and disappointment, her hopes and fears. And, I hope they took the time to sit in the  mystery with her and without judgement or correction, they honored her observations. Because  to have someone like that in your life is to never be lonely again.

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Dawn Delahunty