A Christmas Tale
How we need another soul to cling to. Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
I have a house and the house is by the sea — well, it’s a block away and we endeavour to visit it every day. We means my husband and I and our dog, Miss Lizzy Blue. She’s an Australian Cattle Dog – Blue Heeler variety and although the most loyal dog you could imagine, isn’t very pleasant to strangers in her house. Her house, my house, our house. My dog has taken on the characteristics and traits of my husband and me. She loves order and routine, and she is naturally shy and antisocial — the perfect combination to match my husband and I.
We make our decisions with the dog in mind. Days away need a dog sitter and if she doesn’t come with us, which she does for most of our days, we are restricted on how long we can leave her as we don’t have a decent sized yard to accommodate her. She’s easier than a child but never grows beyond happiness, order, and fun with the same enthusiasm as a little kid.
So we have an eternal child with four legs who’s energy matches our behaviour and is our animal barometer. On low days, she rests and sits beside me but at walk time her animation is hard to ignore and we are back in the land of toddler. Full of energy and smiley face, excited to venture forth.
How many of us at this time of year have a daily reminder of unadulterated joy? It’s Christmas, the silly season, the season of goodwill, but it’s also the season of loneliness and that’s not being alone, it’s the feeling of separation and it’s no stranger to so many people. Furthermore, you don’t have to be alone to be lonely. It’s the state of feeling unwanted or unloved and feeling lonely all the time which could indicate a longing for something else in your life.
Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them. Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
Then there’s the New Year. It creeps up on you with the tradition of resolution. You make your plans, with the intention of improving your life. You resolve to lose weight, increase your exercise, play more, make more money, learn something new, the list is endless.
However, how many of you decide to increase your social connections, increase your sense of community? Loneliness stops you. Loneliness, it turns out, if you are to believe the words of so many people, is due to disappointment in the world, in people. I can’t be lonely with Miss Lizzy Blue. I’m never disappointed in her, she maintains the same toddler-like mentality when it comes to being alive but I have been lonely in my life. I have been let down, experienced moments of vast emptiness from promises unkept, not had a community to belong to that I trust. And it’s more noticeable over Hannukah /Christmas and New Year because that is when people search out other people, very often related to each other to celebrate each other, not just their religious beliefs, if any.
“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…”“It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
What can you do? You could say I am being smug with my dog and well-matched husband but it is in the memory of many a lonely time that I write this. Memories of empty spaces and people whom I didn’t trust. Memories of busy places and the hole in which I existed amongst them. Years of them. Loneliness welcomes the depression and very often despair which grows insidiously and eats at the soul and clouds the mind. How can you fix this? How can you avoid the darkness? How can you not partake of that excruciating loneliness?
What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured. Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage
I’m a fan. Social media like Snap Chat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, any of them, all of them, provides community, albeit a virtual community but nevertheless, a community. Social media communities are as Vonnegut writes, stable. They are predictable and have a structure. They potentially contain links with many people, some virtual strangers but people who have something in common. The need to reach out and connect. Your need to reach out and connect can be satisfied without having to physically go out and join a like-minded group. You can find one of these communities or create one on your own. It won’t be long before others, curious, want to join.
Walt Whitman said, “I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.” So what? Your contacts play World of Warcraft or some other video game. When you link with another player, you enter into that sense of community you need. Doug Cooper said, “There’s a drive in a lost soul—in one that is searching for acceptance, companionship, belonging, whatever you want to call it. The slightest coincidence ignites a spark that one hopes will lead to something meaningful.”
What is the chance encounter in social media if it is not the spark which ignites the hope of something meaningful, even for the day, the hour? I believe, deep down we are eternal optimists. Like Scrooge in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ there is the possibility of change from the dark to the light, from loneliness to being alone, which is a state of physical being, not an emotion. And then in that being alone, relationships can be forged online.
Take this as a cautionary tale, you can choose loneliness or you can be proactive in joining a community whether virtual or physical and reap the benefits of connection, unless you are me of course who will be on a beach with my husband and a cattle dog, enjoying the connections with human, animal and nature.