Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A tsunami of loneliness

I have no idea where it comes from, but this morning as I was walking to get some coffee I was hit by a tsunami of loneliness. I was completely overwhelmed by the feeling, it washed over me, taking me, pulling me down like some tragic undertow, it brought so many tears to my eyes that I could barely see well enough to walk down a mostly empty city sidewalk.

I was thinking about the woman who works at the coffee shop that was my destination. We have gotten to know each other a little bit. We know each other's names and engage in a bit more than polite customer service chatter while she pulls the shots of espresso for my drink.

I think she's beautiful, and there's the clarity and energy of intelligence in her voice and manner. I'm sure she's much younger than I am, but I don't let that talk me out of my attachment to her. As long as she remains only my beautiful friend at the coffee shop details like our actual compatibility are irrelevant—just needless ways to spoil my fun. I indulge myself in my fondness for her privately except for what might be confessed to those who might notice my smile when I see her, nothing else really matters.

She's the only person at the coffee shop whose name I know, even though I am in there at least once a day. Her employer should know that she sells coffee for them. If I see her in there I stop-in, regardless of my actual desire for coffee. Her greeting and smile are reason enough.

She's not the cause of my loneliness, in fact, I'm not sure that loneliness even needs a cause. I mention her because it was her that I was thinking about when I was swallowed whole by loneliness this morning. Interestingly enough, she was at work when I got there, a surprise, since I had grown accustomed to seeing her in the evening hours. She smiles in such a way that the corners of her eyes turn up when she sees me. It's a genuine and warm greeting. We connect. My loneliness vanishes as quickly as it arose, fading, slipping quietly back to my ocean of emotion.

What does it really mean to be lonely anyway? We are all alone. What are these thoughts and feelings that collectively coalesce into this flavor of sad? We think that this has something to do with the people around us, and the quality of those connections, but everyone has experienced instances during which an irrational pang of isolation arises in the midst of being in the midst of some interaction normally thought to be intimate. Conversely, I think the experience of being connected with everything while in solitude visits everyone's life on occasion.

If we take these experiences, and their seeming ubiquity, as evidence of the lack of association between a dearth of actual social community and loneliness, then what is loneliness? What is it made out of?