Higher Living Reflections

Sharing a Drink Called Loneliness

I’m not liking to write this for fear it will cause embarrassment. But then, wise teachers would point out that is exactly the reason I must proceed.

I fear that this piece will be seen as dripping with self-pity or weakness. I can handle the weakness reaction given that I moved past that phase of male insecurity ages ago. Rather, it’s the self-pity tone that might be inferred. I despise self-pity along with its psychological cousins, victimization and grievance. For me, they serve as barometers and indicators of weakness in character.

Still, I would be dishonest if I insist that I am not fighting a case of self-pity. One solace is that I am fighting it, not wallowing in it. Another is that I am far from alone in feeling and fighting it, and that is the reason I peck forward on the keyboard.

Covid-19 is not the only viral infection affecting us. Societal ugliness is ravaging our body politic. Concurrently, while the Covid-19 virus is causing great physical and economic pain, distress, and death, it is also acerbating that viral ugliness.

I awakened this morning with the strains of Billy Joel’s song, “Piano Man,” running through my head. Talk about a downer. One gut puncher in the lyrics for me is “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it’s better than drinkin’ alone.” From this time perspective, the patrons of that bar probably don’t realize how lucky they are to be sharing a drink as opposed to be drinking at home alone. I know I hadn’t, but I do now.

Another song rambling through my head of late is “Lonely People.” Its opening lines: “This is for all the lonely people / Thinking that life has passed them by.” The second line could be aptly rephrased to fit our time to “Seeing how life is passing them by.” For it is. It is ironic that the 1970s group who made the song into a hit is America. Ponder that for a bit.

I admit to feeling lonely. Over the summer, my social life blossomed to include my health providers as I had three sundry procedures taken care of. It feels good to have them done, but there’s a bittersweetness to it as those trips gave me opportunity to chat it up in person with interesting people from my doctors to their assistants and receptionists. Now, my social life is back to weekly grocery shopping trips.

Another bittersweetness is the consolation knowing that I am not alone. Far from it. Countless others are feeling it. Relative to them, I know too that my situation is far more tolerable. While relative, it is, nevertheless, brutal. Tragically, for some it has been and will be fatal.

It was for a very close personal friend. It was more than he could bear. The isolation and loss of his dream job proved to be the straws that broke his back. He committed suicide. I think of him daily as I work through my grief. I try to imagine the depths of his despair towards the end. As I do, I wonder too how many others have likewise taken their lives and what it is like for those they left behind.

In Walden, Thoreau writes, “What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.”

I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to not touching base with others. When this pandemic hit in the spring, I wrote this blog regularly. I made phone calls, texted, and sent emails to check in on those I love, especially those who might be in vulnerable situations. I no longer do. That energy has been enervated. The viruses have taken their toll, and there remains a long way to go before we “round the corner” on both.

Scientists will likely develop a vaccine for Covid-19. But no vaccine can be created for what ails the heart and mind. Only honest recognition and human interaction can.

In The Plague by Albert Camus, Dr. Rieux avers to the journalist Rambert that “Man isn’t an idea.”

Rambert fires back. “Man is an idea and a precious small idea, once he turns his back on love. And that’s my point; we – mankind – have lost the capacity for love. We must face that fact, doctor. Let’s wait to acquire that capacity or, if really it’s beyond us, wait for the deliverance that will come to each of us anyway, without his playing the hero. Personally, I look no further.”

Dr. Rieux concedes the point, but he holds that there is something vital to keep in mind.

“There’s no question of heroism in all this,” he says. “It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means to fighting a plague is – common decency.”

At the end of the song, the patrons, as they “put bread” in his jar, say ironically to Piano Man, “Man, what are you doing here?” I suppose they were too numb to figure that out.

This is Election Day. The results TBD. Regardless of the outcome, we face a most challenging time and course. Many are worn down, but fatigue cannot be a reason not to meet challenges lying ahead.

But then, when one thinks of it, it need not be all that daunting. All it would take is for each to approach those challenges, both private and public, with the common decency the good doctor prescribes.  

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  • Randi Samuelson-Brown
    November 3, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    I think common decency is a much underrated value, along with common sense! Good article, Jerry. I think yu are hitting the nail on the head…

  • Karen
    November 3, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    Thank you Jerry, for putting into words what many, if not most of us are feeling right now. Thanks too, for the courage and vulnerability it took TO share. And, I am so sorry to hear about your friend who took his own life. Sadly, and I know this from my own, personal experience, when it comes to suicide, there is ALWAYS that proverbial straw that brings someone to their absolute limit. and “breaks” them. Covid, isolation, social distancing, the loss of personal freedoms, health, loved ones, (most of whom died and continue to die alone–The MOST TRAGIC aspect of this pandemic) jobs, money, homes, hugs, kisses, the familiar handshake, smiles now hidden behind masks…This is a Brave New World and each of us is being called upon to be “brave.” But man, it’s hard–and for those who may have been on “the brink” before all of this—well, I can only imagine their anguish. I take solace in clinging to the hope that when this passes, and it shall, that all of humanity’s pain and suffering will be transformed and transmuted into deep, even spiritual lessons having been learned; lessons that will unite us, rather than divide us; because right now, we’re all getting a big dose of division, and I suspect that we might all agree that being divided and separated is not how human beings were designed to live. On the upside, I do believe that this crisis has provided us with an opportunity to put some much-needed emphasis on the “being” part of human being. And that, ultimately can only be a good thing. Blessings of light, love, and gratitude my friend! Your words are always so powerful!

  • Melanie Mulhall
    November 3, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    This pandemic has given me an even greater sense of urgency than old age itself has to tell those I love that I love them. And my friend, I love you. I’ve had some bouts of loneliness too over the past many months. Thank God for the gym (the weight room has been back open since the middle of June). Thank God for friends and neighbors, both of which I get to see on a somewhat regular basis (that will likely be curtailed a bit as winter sets in). We humans are social creatures, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re introverts or extroverts. We need other humans to bump up against so we can practice love, so we can be exposed to not-us, so we can have witnesses to our lives. There is something tragic about how both the pandemic and politics have created a high level of divisiveness. But we don’t have to give in to it or go along with it. All we have to do is follow the True North of love.

  • Bonnie McCune
    November 3, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    I agree with you. I think the terrible divisiveness and hatefulness are putting us at one another’s throats. I certainly would rather be on my own than trying to get along with the mean, foul people out there. I wonder, though, just what the impact of solitude is going to have long-term. Our little kids will barely know how to relate to one another.

  • Mary Pat
    November 3, 2020 at 11:01 pm

    This is a timely and poignant essay, my friend. And thank you for the courage it took to write this, to put it out there. May our collective grief carry us to a place of hope and peace knowing that we are not alone in our sorrow and solitude but will one day be on the other side of this.

  • Cheryl Ilov
    November 4, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    Beautifully written and so well said, Jerry. Thank you for posting!

  • Donna
    November 4, 2020 at 11:52 pm

    Jerry, your poignant writing puts into words what so many of us are feeling and helps alleviate our own loneliness. There is a sense of suspension and a lessening of energy to keep in touch with others, we are worn out in 2020. This pandemic goes on and on. And right now the numbness of viewing election returns last night is finally wearing off. I watched a mute screen with the returns while listening to music – the Simon and Garfunkel song “America” played and I was reminded of simpler times- our high school and college days. Of course we were young then with a sense of endless possibilities reflected by the moon landing, Age of Aquarius”, etc. But this time was also upended by assassination and war. But, as you and others mention, these current times bring an immediacy to encounters with others and more of a need to be kind in that moment in time. Thanks for your words friend.