Of course, loneliness is a matter of perception, right? It's not like I never see anyone, and my virtual life has been hopping... meetings on Toxbox, conference calls, plenty of friends on Facebook and Twitter, plenty of plans for the rest of the year. I'm not ACTUALLY alone --not by a long shot-- but when I *feel* alone, it doesn't really matter.
I have entertained the thought that for someone of my age and health, living where I do, to be truly lonely involves some level of narcissism. You basically have to ignore your friends and the people around you every day, ignore the impact they're having in your life, ignore their care and their generosity towards you... ignore the smiles of every stranger, downplay the importance of every casual and not-so-casual conversation. In other words, you have to be a bit of a navel-gazing jacka**. No offense to any such folks who may be reading this post, but I'm willing to admit it about myself.
So. Tonight I more or less ran out of my house, headed to a church function, desperate to be around PEOPLE, and was foiled by a broken-down train on the orange line (God bless Metro... this snow is too much for any of the DC infrastructure, so I'm not surprised they're having trouble). So I bought a 12 pack of toilet paper at CVS and strode somewhat dejectedly home past couples and groups going out and about, tired of their own cabin fever... the lonely thirty-something female, single, pathetic, and indirectly declaring to all of Clarendon that she was regular enough to require 12 rolls of toilet paper. I suppose I should count my blessings in that regard.
The walk to the metro is a mixed bag right now... as with every snowfall, I'm truly grateful for everyone who has shoveled their sidewalks, but the usual suspects have not, so there are quite a few portions where pedestrians have to walk on the road, mere feet from the cars, most of which slow down but not all of which do. It's not fun, and definitely not fun in the dark. At the end of the walk, I decided to take my chances on the sidewalk rather than clamber back out into the road right at a busy intersection, and found that the last block or so hadn't been shoveled at ALL. The picture at the top of this post is after I'd made it through that last block, hoisting my precious 12 pack, stepping carefully into deep boot prints left in the 3 feet of snow by who knows how many people before me, the "walk" sign glowing beside that path, mildly ironic but also optimistic, in a way.
That's when it hit me. None of us is EVER alone. We have all of history behind us. We have our own families (whether or not we wish to carry on their legacy is irrelevant), we have the people who live around us, we have stories transmitted by an abundance of media sources. Community carries us along with it, even if we live alone, even if we ignore it as a gift and consider it an annoyance. Even if we lacked these obvious physical manifestations of community, there are precious few places on earth that have not been touched by humans, and none that lack the Hand of God. Everywhere, all the time, there is some Presence other than us.
I'm walking, living, breathing, existing, in the wake of the history that has come before me. Maybe that's not rocket science, but tonight I found it comforting... a reminder that my isolation --whether a mental state or a true relational one-- is as temporary a state as there is. I'm walking in the big, deep boot steps of those who have gone before me, and in the awareness of the Presence of God. I'll be ok.