For many people, maybe most, loneliness is a dreaded place, to be avoided at all costs. After I’d read Hayley Campbell’s recent thought provoking article, it got me thinking about what loneliness means to me. I know how feels to be alone, and I know how it feels to be a loner, of sorts. Cormac McCarthy described himself as a “gregarious loner”, in a rare interview with the New York Times, some years ago. As soon as I read it, I knew it was a perfect fit for me, too. A perfect fit for anyone who enjoys interaction with others, yet remains hell-bent on protecting their privacy.
At work, I seemed to rub along with most. It wasn’t an effort to get on with others. And a message in one of my leaving cards read, “I will really miss your unfailing good humour”. This was a pleasant surprise for me, but I was only being myself, honestly. Another colleague, a quiet and unassuming soul, emailed me to say she would miss me. Apparently I was the only person who greeted her with a “good morning”, on a daily basis. So yes, that’s the gregarious bit, continuing unabated to this very day. Mostly via social media.
The ‘loner’ side of my personality; the private person, if you like, is reflected in the fact that I rarely, if ever, socialised with those I worked with. I’ve always made a conscious effort to keep the two spheres of workplace and home life separate.
Anyway, loneliness. Campbell talks of loss and a detachment from the familiar. A sense of floating free from that which had held her steady and relatively secure. This, I get, entirely.
Until 2002, I spent almost half a century within a close family, for better and for worse. Then, the inevitable losses. One after another, over the next seven years, lines were cut, cornerstones lifted and removed. And when the dust had settled, in what seemed like an age, loneliness was all too real. Campbell describes it as “…a stillness that gives you a preview of death; it’s seeing the world carry on just fine without you in it.”
Thankfully, I have a deep and solid relationship with those who survived the darkest days of loss alongside me. The larger family, as we knew it, is now fragmented. Our own little unit is indeed floating free, and still getting used to weightlessness. Others were not so fortunate. They may well be experiencing the loneliness that arises from estrangement and antipathy. I hope not, though. I hope they are building something with substantial cornerstones, as we are.