Written by Hank Williams in 1949, the song “I’m so lonesome I could cry” describes a human emotion that is truly universal. Even when we are tethered to people we love or are surrounded by friends that support us, love us, and make us laugh; we have all experienced feeling lonesome. Thinking we are alone in the world, with no one to listen to us, no one to care for us, no one to affirm or strengthen us. We may tell ourselves that no matter what may occur we have to face it alone. It can also be just a mild sense of anxiety that we don’t want to stay home alone while our spouse or partner goes to the store. Part of the reason lonesomeness is so hard to bear is because we feel so powerless over it. When we are alone or feeling lonesome, for any reason, we cannot just produce camaraderie – we can’t make a loved one drop down out of the sky. The minutes and hours seem to pass by excruciatingly slowly as we are bound within the reality of only our own presence.
Being lonesome is so much more than simply feeling lonely. It is a protracted, painful ache. When it starts to move through us we are mildly aware of its presence, but as it stretches its tendrils out in us, we can feel as if it is overtaking and overwhelming us. We want to slap it away with the fierceness with which we would swat a fly. We simply want to stop the ache, or, at least, be diverted from it. But it holds on tight. It lingers and hovers around as if it were moss growing on a damp tree. So what can we do when its ghostly presence scoots across our soul like mist between mountains?
There are at least three things we can do that will move us from aching to action. And, those three things do not involve going out in search of a new companion! The first thing to do is to simply acknowledge its presence. Notice it. Name it. Befriend it. Lonesomeness carries a space of opportunity within it that can easily be missed if we simply react by trying to rid ourselves of it too quickly.
The second thing to do is consider what can be accomplished during a time of lonesomeness that can’t be accomplished when there are people and activities all around. For example, lonesomeness creates an open space for thinking, writing, reading, taking a walk, sipping a cup of coffee, praying, or listening to a beautiful piece of music. In other words, the space that feels painful can provide a place for things that have been crowded out of life because we have been too busy in the ‘world of people.’
Finally, we can re-assure ourselves that it will pass. We will not remain lonesome forever. Even if we are single and live all alone in a big house on a 10 acre piece of ground in a rural area, lonesomeness will pass. It comes for a time, and then it leaves. We don’t make lonesomeness go away by grasping onto another human being, or gathering a community of people around us to stave off the possibility of feeling lonely. It comes when we need to have space for our own soul. It goes away when we have named it, and made use of its gift. Even in that big house in the rural area, there are creatures and ideas and actions that will gradually cause lonesomeness to fade.
The great danger is not that we will get stuck in ‘lonesomeness’ and spend the rest of our life in sad tears with an empty heart. The great danger is that we will try to cover it up, avoid it, deny it and miss its great opportunity to fill our soul with the nourishment that can only be found solitude.