The Long Loneliness

As 2020 comes to a close I’ve been compiling photo books. Sometimes the pictures convey more than words ever could, but sometimes the pictures can also smooth the edges of the roughest memories. And the latter is making me increasingly uncomfortable. I’m being reminded that in the art of storytelling we need those rough memories no matter how hard they are to remember. Not because we need to wallow in what’s hard, but we need the reminders of what we have overcome. We need the generations-to-come to know that they are not alone in feeling their angst, their disappointment, their cynicism. We were there once. And we are still there, too. If we embrace a nonlinear understanding of time I think we can better cope with the need for reflection. Anyone who has dealt with any sort of traumatic event can attest to the fact that we don’t really ever “move on” and forget. Instead, these moments embed in us and we often revisit them. We circle back. I don’t mean that we live in and wallow in the trauma, but it is important that we sit in it and feel it in order to heal from it. It’s okay to revisit it. We don’t just do it for ourselves. We do it to be of service to others. To offer empathy and support when someone else finds themselves in a place we once were. We can go back to those painful times, whether the feelings have dulled or not, and we can still pull from those experiences. I think in many ways our current generations have lost the art of healing and storytelling. We have lost the sacred ways in which our ancestors learned and taught when we bought into Western linear time. Let us not forget that God has never claimed a linear timeline. As Saint Oscar Romero reminds us in his Christmas homilies, Jesus is simultaneously in the incarnation and the crucifixion. As humans, we have the capacity to feel the loneliness of the darkness and the warmth of the light at the same time. It may be uncomfortable, but is it not part of the complexity of the human experience? I think of Mary’s joy as she brings forth the Son and her sorrow at the foot of the cross. Without both, our salvation story is incomplete.

As I think about 2020 I know that it wasn’t just our world that was rocked, but there are some things we celebrated and suffered that was unique to us as a family. Jobs lost, financial uncertainty, balancing working from home and academic, behavioral, and social progress of the kids on our own — in those ways our experience was very much like a lot of people around us. But we also had to confront addiction, and recovery, and whatever life is after that. I took on a month of solo parenting while working from home in a pandemic while I was 8 months pregnant. By the time Mila was born I felt like I was at my weakest. I remember, while laboring with her, that I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do it this time. I felt like I was drawing from an empty well. My body was tired and I am still feeling the affects of it. But I also got paid to do consulting and restorative justice work. We somehow swindled the universe into letting us buy a house. But, the loneliness of 2020 is the heaviest. Having a baby during a pandemic is lonely. Navigating addiction and recovery is lonely. Being separated by thousands of miles from my best friends and my closest family members is lonely. And right here at the end, our beloved dog died.

This loneliness is not something that I can fix with a 2021 resolution. I can’t help but think of the words of Servant of God Dorothy Day, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” My heart aches for community. I have been reminded about my passion for radical hospitality. I think for many of us, a light was shown on our loneliness this year and we are being forced to grapple with it in a way that we weren’t prepared for. I don’t have any solutions to this or a nice send-off. Instead, I am sharing I suppose, to reach out, to offer a space of welcome and solidarity. We have work to do ahead of us, but we cannot go at it alone. Together, we were made for times such as these.

2 thoughts on “The Long Loneliness”

  1. Thank you for “The Long Loneliness” post, Natalie! I’m processing my recent move across country, and loneliness is a major part.Love to you and your family!


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