By the end of this virus–if ever– the volume of stories, studies and literature on the concurrent epidemic of loneliness will be up 1000% or more, yet leading us no closer to a remedy.
Loneliness isn’t due to this virus. Loneliness was an epidemic long before Wuhan. Trying to make meaningful connections with others in this metropolis of gated communities, crime, politics, hate, mistrust and self absorption has been a wildfire spreading rapidly through society for the past 50 years or more. The pandemic just added new fears and new rules to punctuate a plague already rampant before the pandemic with a huge exclamation point.
So now suddenly a rush of researchers and armchair psychologists are reporting on what the consequences of a year of isolation without physical affection might mean to us in both the short and long term as if it were some new phenomenon.
Lonely people are among us everywhere from generations of abandoned elderly to street kids turned prostitute just to survive. But as ailments go, loneliness doesn’t often become of particular interest until it’s a thread woven into your own personal story. Befriended, familied, and connected folks with vital relationships have little incentive to comprehend what they’ve not experienced. And lonely people often keep to themselves making it an awkward, uncomfortable mission for those who might actually have the desire to intervene. It’s no fun being lonely and trying to help can be depressing if and when possible at all. We all feel lonely at times but most can muster self-soothing thoughts and actions to overcome the difficult but temporary condition. Loneliness however, is a pervasive pattern of acquiescence to a long term existence with no one to whom they can appeal within arm’s length. Huge difference. Huge.
Here in a nation equipped to treat almost any illness, little time or resources go to help this hidden, silent cohort who wouldn’t even know who to complain to if they spoke up about their plight. Finding them is easy, it’s connecting with them that takes persistent effort. Their condition is so severe, at the start of treatment they find it hard to interpret your kindness and visibility as genuine. For too long, they’ve grown accustomed to isolation but your consistency can erode that belief. We are all our brothers’ keepers called to visit the darker places with the light of hope and compassion too many can’t ignite for themselves.
Meanwhile, let the writers write their analyses in their journals while the altruist writes in person directly on hearts of the afflicted.