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To be alone

10/18/2020 02:37:08 PM

Oct18

Several months ago, while walking on a raw, gray afternoon, I passed by an old house with the porch light on.  Perhaps it was the weather, or my own dampened mood, but the sight of a porch light on in the middle of the day made me feel sad.

As I walked, I wondered what made me so sad about seeing a porch light on in the middle of the day.  Of course, the house could have been empty, and the illuminated light bulb merely an oversight.  But in that moment, I imagined that there was a person inside that house, a person waiting for a loved one to return. 

I further imagined that the light had been turned on in the hope that the loved one would have returned the previous night, and the loved one did not return, so the light still burned, keeping a lonely vigil.  In that moment, it seemed to me that the porch light represented the very image of loneliness.  That is what made me sad.

“It is not good for man to be alone,” we read in the Torah.  In the Torah’s second story of creation, the first human is created as a single being, sculpted from damp clay and animated with the breath of God.  After the first human is created, God says “it is not good for man to be alone.”   This observation leads to the creation of the first woman.

“It is not good to be alone.”   Let’s take a closer look at the assumption behind that statement.  As a strong introvert, I value the time I spend in solitude.  The time I choose to spend alone refreshes me – that is the definition of an introvert.  (It’s not correct to say that introverts don’t like people, only that introverts need a certain amount of “alone time.”)  So I suggest an amended reading of the verse “It is not good to be alone.” 

Perhaps it is better to say:  It is not good to be lonely.  It’s not good if we crave companionship and find it lacking. After all, loneliness is not something you feel only when you are physically alone.  It is quite possible to feel lonely even in a crowd of people.  It is quite possible to feel lonely even while spending time with a friend.  It is quite possible to feel lonely even in a marriage.

A few years ago I read an article that claimed there is no single word in English that means “the opposite of loneliness.”  Marina Keegan’s collection of essays and stories published under the title “The Opposite of Loneliness” after her untimely death in a car accident does not offer a single word that captures “the Opposite of Loneliness.”  Instead, she wrote:  

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team.

 

In this time of physical separation, it can be harder to feel part of “an abundance of people who are on your team.”  Without the opportunity to gather so freely for informal conversation and shared experiences, we may feel as if we are going through our struggles alone.  We may have to remind ourselves that being a part of a team requires communication.  Practice.  Contact.  It requires work.

It took me a while to figure out what struck me as sad and lonely about the porch light left on in the middle of the day.  I had imagined that the light represented the act of waiting for someone to return, an entirely passive act.  We live in a time in which the passive act of waiting for human companionship does not serve us well.

Instead, when we feel loneliness creep into our hearts, we must be active, to seek out the people with whom we can talk, even if only on a screen, or on the phone, or with masks and six feet separating us. 

In this sacred community we are among an abundance of people.  And we are on the same team.  Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of that fact.  Because while it can be good to be alone, it is never good to feel alone.  

Wed, January 26 2022 24 Sh'vat 5782