Friday, December 10, 2010

Lonliness in the cold

There’s a lot of words my wife, my family, and my friends might use to describe me, but emotional is not high on the list. They’re there, emotions. Somewhere inside of me. Every now and then a movie will pull the tears out (Glory, 7 Pounds, Patch Adams, ET). But in general I find emotional satisfaction by living vicariously through music and the psalms. Being that I have a special place in my heart for emotional rides in music, I hang onto albums from the turn-of-the-century whiney Emo run, as well as the emotional up-and-let-it-out songs like Radiohead’s Creep or DMB’s Bartender. But when I really want to experience emotion in its realist, rawest form, I go to the Psalms.

I love reading and experiencing David’s heart. He never hesitated to tell God how he really felt. And yet he seemed so balanced. “How long O Lord will you forget me?” is followed not too distantly by “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness” (Psalm 13). Something about it all feels right. Much more so than actual life. Much much more so than what I typically hear coming from the world of Christianity (question God? accuse God? nooo). When I feel a little twinge of emotion, I search for it in the Psalms to see what it really feels like. To discover passion and honesty and to try myself to communicate that to God.

Lately I’ve been thinking about loneliness. For a couple reasons. I started out musing not just on loneliness, but utter despair, pain, and losing the will to live. Walking to a movie in Paris late one night with my wife, snow blowing around overhead, I saw someone laying down on a concrete step in a doorway, a blanket of roughly stitched together bags doing little to deter the frigid cold. I was taken aback, finally hit with a deeper reality of homelessness, especially in a cold place. Survive a winter? In that place, I don’t think I’d have much interest in even trying. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly judgmental for ever turning away from a drunk street person. If I was bitterly cold and faced with the proposition of cuddling up to a brick wall while winds whipped by and snow and sleet fell for the night, would I be any different? If a drink made it go away, replacing the ice-cold pain and despair with warm delirium, would I find any point in sobriety?

Back to my life of comfort (doesn’t seem that my problems are so bad when put in that perspective)... loneliness. We’d heard before of Christians in Western Europe feeling estranged and alone. We get it. It’s weird: being in the most populated place I’ve ever lived, neighbors on top of and all around us, we feel more alone than ever before. We’ve found community here with some friends, and we know we’re only getting started, but in the midst of the masses, we feel alone. Turns out David experienced the same emotion, probably exponentially more.

In Psalm 142 he cries aloud, pours out complaints, and declares his troubles to the Lord. He says,
“Look to the right and see;
For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.”

Sounds pretty lonely, no? Now here’s the interesting part. This psalm was written by David, in a cave. So says the manuscript. There’s only 2 mentions in the Bible of David in a cave that I know of: 1 Samuel 22 and 24. 1 Samuel 22:2 says, “ there were about 400 men with him.” Two chapters later it appears to be a similar situation. Surrounded by 400 others, in a cave, and David felt so totally alone that he wrote this? Pretty amazing concept. And yet I get it. Unlike David, I don’t have anyone chasing after and trying to kill me, but I am surrounded and yet alone.

And it’s Christmastime. Time to be with family and celebrate the Birth of Christ. Sadly we don’t have family here, so we’re trying to figure out a way to make the holiday we always associate with family special. We know God will provide.

A simple suggestion, especially to our friends in the States... could there be some people around you in your everyday life that are in the midst of a crowd and yet totally alone? Is there someone you could invite over for a gathering, a meal, a party, a week away from school? Make the day of your single friend, an international student far from home, or some empty-nesters who’s kids are half a world away. Invite them in for even the simplest of festivities. Loneliness is no fun, and yet it’s a plight with a simple remedy.


brady said...

I feel ya, brother. It's such a difficult balance to find between being 'alone' and being 'lonely'. That's what I've been working through the past couple of months. It's good to be alone and with the Lord, but sucks to be lonely. I'll be lifting you guys up for sure.

Michael & Joe Joe said...

Thanks Brady. That's exactly right. I actually used to feel bad anytime I saw someone sitting by themselves in a restaurant. Now I actually enjoy the rare occasion to sit in a cafe alone and think, write, or totally blank out. I was off-base in connecting alone and loneliness. Now I get it. Took me moving to the most populated city I've ever been in to understand.