I recently saw a Harry Truman quote: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
Strikes me as being true in our culture at large. We are busy, busy, busy–going to and from social events of all kinds, but making few meaningful connections.
Being lonely is different from being alone, of course. Being alone can be edifying in many different ways. All too often our culture equates being alone with loneliness. Sometimes there is overlap.
The reason why I think feeling lonely is good is because it reminds us of the plight of those who are more lonely. Happy socializing people rarely stop to ponder whether the person in the drugstore is having a good day or not. Helping someone can stand out in a person’s mind for a long time, particularly if they are lonely.
I remember when I landed in Berlin for the year–and suddenly, after months of planning–wondered just what I was doing there. I wondered who had made this foolish decision. (Of course it was me. Makes it harder to lay blame.)
Working in the library one day, I couldn’t find the stacks I was looking for. So I asked someone. He looked at me, looked at what I was looking for and looked at me again. Then he simply said (in German), “I’ll show you.” He proceeded to take me up and down stairs and down and around long, winding corridors. When we finally landed where I needed to be about ten minutes later, he said a simple, “here.” And left.
That was in 1998 and I still remember, clear as day. I wanted to hug him, but Germans don’t do that sort of frivolous thing.
Loneliness reminds us of our longing for the eternal. Which is actually a longing for God. Which is another reminder that when we think we are alone, we are actually not.
All this to say, feeling lonely reminds us to reach out, and there are always people who need to be reached out to. Those of us who have the capacity ought to do so. To new immigrants, people for whom every last thing is new and strange. To people who live on the streets without a loving home or stable family. And even to people who think they are really busy and important as they hustle about from cocktail party to reception, but in reality live empty lives.
There are lots of people, everywhere, always–who appreciate being shown their way to the right stacks!by