LAST WEEK, I went on about loneliness.
I talked about how lethal loneliness can be, and I wasn’t kidding.
Then, I urged those of us who are lonely to do something.
Well, due to circumstances that are too boring to bother relating, a buddy of mine read that column and said something close to: “Geez, man, lighten up. You make it sound like all those lonely people are just sitting around by choice.
“And that all they have to do is pull themselves up by their bootstraps or buck up and they’ll be fine.
“Don’t you suppose all those folks would do something about it if they could?”
So, I reread that column, and here’s what I came up with: He’s right.
I was wrong.
I made it sound like every lonely person should just suddenly see the light (the gospel, according to Harvey), grab the phone and/or jump into the car, and everything would be just fine.
Right. I think I need to back way up.
There are a million legitimate reasons that any of us might be lonely.
Maybe we’ve lost someone very close to us — or several someones — or a pet.
It doesn’t matter, because loss is loss, and now there’s a hole where that spirit used to be.
We miss them and we feel more alone.
Maybe we’ve relocated (or we had to relocate) and all those old friends or family or connections just aren’t where they used to be and we miss them.
We feel more alone. Lonesome. Lonely.
Because we are.
Maybe we’re suddenly restricted to the house because of some medical something or other, rehabbing in a nursing home, experiencing the empty nest, or maybe we’ve just gotten way too tired of attending funerals.
There are a million reasons. And of course a lot of us know that there is a fine line between loneliness and depression, so most of us know that neither of those exactly fills us with energy: Sure, grab the phone. Sure, jump in the car. Sure.
If it were that easy, we’d have done it by now. I know.
“I just can’t face that right now.”
“I’ll do it later, when I feel better.”
“I just can’t get over the hurt.”
And sometimes we just need time: to heal, to absorb the hurt … to mourn, perhaps, so we spend our time looking back at yesterdays or just trying not to feel much of anything.
I’ve been there, and I’m sorry if you’re there now.
Time really does help.
So, time can be our friend, our consoler, our healer.
It can also be our worst enemy if we let mourning or healing or absorbing go on too long.
It can become a lifestyle and so it becomes our life. Loneliness.
After a while, the less we do — the longer we allow isolation — the harder it can be to break that cycle, so we don’t, and every day begins to look like every other day and every night begins to look like every other night and life becomes a cycle of gray to gray, going on and on. Loneliness.
And that’s what I should have said last week: I know. I really do know.
So, I hope you’ll summon the courage (from that place where you’ve summoned courage before) and do something — however small, however brief, however (seemingly) insignificant. Something.
Something that will begin to break that cycle, begin to take a small bite out of that loneliness. Something.
A first step toward rejoining the world and continuing to give, to contribute, just as you have for most of your life.
I’ve said before that courage is not the absence of fear. I believe that.
It also isn’t the absence of hurt, emptiness or, perhaps, the feeling of uselessness.
Courage is feeling any or all of those things but doing “it” anyway — however small, however brief.
Loneliness really can kill, or come damn close to it.
If you’re lonely (or you ever have been), you know how that feels. So you know how other lonely people feel, and maybe that’s the “it” — the little thing you can do: touch someone else’s loneliness.
Maybe not. Maybe that’s too much.
It’s not my place to say or to judge.
But it is my place to say this: Every single one of us is part of the us — all of us — so, we need you in order to be us.
Please don’t leave us.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information &Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing email@example.com.