Monday, August 17, 2020

Loneliness – A Quandary that Refuses to be Solved

Spiritually Minded — It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn ...

In today’s fast paced world, it is often the un-said hope and expectation that we, along with our friends, family and colleagues are okay all the time. At least we don’t want them to tell us that they feel anything otherwise. Then we may not need to worry about them. In a delightful story, Eeyore, the glum and introverted donkey found in the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, expresses how this is a false belief we have, because, unless we believe the lie we are telling ourselves, we simply are not O.K. all of the time.

In this story, Pooh and Piglet wonder if something is wrong with Eeyore, since they had not seen him for several days. So they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore's stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

"Hello Eeyore," said Pooh.

"Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet," said Eeyore, in a glum sounding voice.

"We just thought we'd check in on you," said Piglet, "because we hadn't heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay."

Eeyore was silent for a moment. "Am I okay?" he asked, eventually. "Well, I don't know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That's what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all. Which is why I haven't bothered you. Because you wouldn't want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all, would you now."

Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.

Eeyore looked at them in surprise. "What are you doing?"

"We're sitting here with you," said Pooh, "because we are your friends. And true friends don't care if someone is feeling sad, or alone, or not much fun to be around at all. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are."

"Oh," said Eeyore. "Oh." As the three of them sat there in silence, though Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.[1]

Whether we admit it or not, we have all been in Eeyore’s place. And this exchange between friends shows how one's sadness, aloneness or possibly loneliness can slowly diminish if we are patient with it.

Loneliness is a feeling resulting from a “lack of sympathetic or friendly relationships.” It happens when we believe that our current relationships are less satisfying than what we hope for, expect or feel like we deserve.[2] Because he is a fictional character, we don't know if this is the exact reason why Eeyore was feeling this way. But however he was feeling, Pooh and Piglet were willing to be with him in the moment. And recognizing Eeyore's feelings, while remaining present to them, is the first, and most important step to helping someone move past them.

As a chaplain in long term care, I have spent a lot of time with lonely people. Whether they are willing to express it or not, one can guess whether they may be lonely simply by determining what they are diagnosed with. This is because heart disease, hypotension or one of many addictions are often referred to as loneliness diseases, and the vast majority of residents are diagnosed with one or more of these diseases. 

For those of us who are younger and want to avoid loneliness, we should pay as much attention to it as we would to our diet, exercise and the amount of sleep we get each night. But can we eliminate it entirely? Not really. It might help if we are a little bit more extroverted, but that might just be a band-aid solution to a deeper issue.  This is because loneliness has been around us since the beginning of time.

At the beginning of the Torah, after God created Adam from the dust of the ground, he says It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[3] When Adam sees and names Eve, what proceeds from his mouth is some of the most heartfelt poetry, rejoicing and praise the Torah has in its pages.

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”[4]

Here, God is not creating a wife for Adam, though this is what she is. He is not creating someone with whom Adam may “be fruitful and multiply” though they can make love to one another. God creates Eve to solve Adam’s loneliness. He creates her to be a friend, because this is what Adam needed, and this is what friendship does.

As Dr. Keith Karren writes, friendships do not get better based on the number of friends we have. Instead, it is the closeness and quality of those relationships that determine our satisfaction. So whether we are married, single, living with someone, or by ourselves, it doesn’t matter. The issue is whether we have someone we can turn to for support. And the more people we have in our lives, the better.[5]

So just as Pooh and Piglet did with Eeyore, can we assume that our friends wouldn't mind wasting their time hanging out with us, even though we may be sad, alone, and not much fun to be around at all. Because, whether we say anything at all, when we spend time with the lonely, our presence may ever so slightly impact them in a good way. And who knows? This might be exactly what our friends need to do for themselves as well.


[1] Retrieved from The Maddle Project, published December 15, 2018, on August 3, 2020 https://www.facebook.com/themaddieproject/photos/it-occurred-to-pooh-and-piglet-that-they-hadnt-heard-from-eeyore-for-several-day/1794783897315560/ Author unknown, but presumably A.A. Milne

[2] Karren, Keith J. 2010. Mind/Body Health: The effects of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships p. 260

[3] Genesis 2:18

[4] Genesis 2:23

[5] Karren 239

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