Acquainted With Loneliness

Acquainted With Loneliness

From deep inside the breast there is a loneliness that comes to all, a painful awareness we arrive and depart alone.  To be sure, there were those waiting on the platform when we arrived and there will be those waving wistfully as we leave.  Still, as Carl Sandburg suggests in Limited, one of his “Chicago Poems,” human existence is limited and most do not take the time to fully appreciate its brevity:

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains


            of the nation.


Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air


            go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.


(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
    

            and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
    

            pass to ashes.)

I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
    

            answers: “Omaha.”

These days I hear the faint whistle of the train.  For most of my life I have not minded being alone.  I found myself to be tolerable, even pleasant, company.  When flying, I seldom struck up a conversation.  I enjoyed long silent road trips because they afforded the opportunity for rumination.  I was a public figure, speaking here and there, holding down multiple jobs.  The precious hours alone were cherished.  Back then I was alone but I was rarely lonely. Over the last several years, however, I have made the acquaintance of loneliness.  It leaves a stiff emptiness in the pit of your stomach, like going to bed without supper.

There is an old hymn that ends, “‘Tis midnight in the garden now, the suffering savior prays, alone.”  I spoke with my father.  He is 90.  He said, “Oh, I am lonely.  I wish you and your brother were here more, but I get by.”  I live 1,500 miles away.  My brother lives close but has a busy schedule.  I hung up the phone and thought, “So many lessons I must learn.” You have compassion for what you know. For the things you can only imagine, you attempt compassion and hope the attempt is enough. Sometimes it is.

On the subject of loneliness, I would prefer not to have made its acquaintance. It makes me very grateful for a few close fellow travelers.  When asked where they are going on the limited express, these are not friends who dismissively reply, “Omaha.”  These are friends who know where we are going, all of us.  At journey’s end they will run on the platform to the very last inch of pavement, waving and blowing kisses and holding my gaze into the fading light.

This post was written in 2013, but not published until now.  It was not written in response to my current circumstances.  To answer the question a lot of you have asked, I am not currently feeling lonely.  A lot of wonderful people have come into my life – Paula

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