Me, Myself and I: Loneliness Can Be a Shameful Hunger, a Shell, a Dangerous Landscape of Shadowy Figures. but It Is Also a Gift
What is loneliness? It can be debilitating to be sure, an anguish barely fathomable. Lonely people withdraw, often at a barely perceptible rate until one day they realize they are alone. Loneliness also impacts both physical and emotional health. The deeper the loneliness, the more isolated the individual, the more likely the individual is to retreat even further when given the opportunity for unscripted social interaction.
Is there anything positive about loneliness?
If the lonely person can learn to reach out, there is a lot which can be learned- of oneself d the world around him or her. How can one learn to reach out? Learn to appreciate art. The lonely person starts to connect on his or her own terms. Seen through the prism of the individual’s eyes and experiences art of all kinds becomes the right prescription in doses taken as needed.
The bluest period I ever spent was in Manhattan’s East Village, not so long back. I lived on East 2nd Street, in an unreconstructed tenement building, and each morning I walked across Tompkins Square Park to get my coffee. When I arrived the trees were bare, and I dedicated those walks to checking the progress of the blossoms. There are many community gardens in that part of town, and so I could examine irises and tulips, forsythia, cherry trees and a great weeping willow that seemed to drop its streamers overnight, like a ship about to lift anchor and sail away.
I wasn’t supposed to be in New York, or not like this, anyway. I’d met someone in America and then lost them almost instantly, but the future we’d dreamed up together retained its magnetism, and so I moved alone to the city I’d expected to become my home. I had friends there, but none of the ordinary duties and habits that comprise a life. I’d severed all those small, sustaining cords, and, as such, it wasn’t surprising that I experienced a loneliness more paralysing than anything I’d encountered in more than a decade of living alone.
What did it feel like? It felt like being hungry, I suppose, in a place where being hungry is shameful, and where one has no money and everyone else is full. It felt, at least sometimes, difficult and embarrassing and important to conceal. Being foreign didn’t help. I kept botching the ballgame of language: fumbling my catches, bungling my throws. Most days, I went for coffee in the same place, a glass-fronted café full of tiny tables, populated almost exclusively by people gazing into the glowing clamshells of their laptops. Each time, the same thing happened. I ordered the nearest thing to filter on the menu: a medium urn brew, which was written in large chalk letters on the board. Each time, without fail, the barista looked blankly up and asked me to repeat myself. I might have found it funny in England, or irritating, or I might not have noticed it all, but that spring it worked under my skin, depositing little grains of anxiety and shame.