At first, loneliness was a foreigner to me. The unknown; a language I could not speak.
Coming from a large family, I always felt my place. Sure, it was a crazy household, but I had my spot in it. The oldest girl, situated between two older brothers, two younger, and a little sister, I knew how to behave and what was required of me.
And then there were all the friends. Not even my friends–just kids that were always at our house. Whether they were hanging with my older brothers, or little girls playing with my old dress-up clothes, I never knew quiet. I never knew still. I was a stranger to isolation, and to be alone was a rare and coveted treat.
I felt my first wave of loneliness in college. I remember feeling as if I hadn’t found “my people.” Surrounded by girls my age, I just couldn’t find my niche. Part of it was me holding myself back, but then there was a very real knowledge that I couldn’t change my circumstances.
Maybe that’s part of coming from a big family. You have these expectations that relationships will go straight to the soul. Despite differences and disagreements, you’ll belong.
I’ve found myself back in that place of belonging several times since I married my husband. We forged a family with friends who needed us. And we needed them.
My friend Emily came to me at a very difficult time in her own life. We became sisters through tears and trials. We were broke together, discouraged together, and we cried. We laughed a lot. We journeyed together.
I thought my heart would break when I had to leave Emily and the community that was our two families.
I found another family–not a replacement–but an addition when I moved on campus in Davis. I found that despite differences in background and religion, I had sisters.
I would walk away from long afternoons spent in the company of Muslims, Catholics, Mormons and Buddhists and revel at such a deliciously unique alliance. We journeyed together.
We were sisters. We had a raw, tangible bond because of where we lived, how we raised our kids, and the dream of a better life one day. We shared the same floor plan of a crappy apartment. We shared washing machines and dryers. We went through the stomach flu together, and took turns washing our sheets. We shared food (maybe this is why we shared the stomach flu). Birthdays. Good news. Bad news. Baby food. Potty training.
Even though my apartment was a tiny piece of crap, even though we were far away from family, even though we had no money, even though there were health problems–I was never lonely. I miss that place. I miss that time.
Right now, I find myself situated among the “better off” folks of California. Doctors, lawyers, producers–these are the people in my “moms group.” And despite moving to a nicer apartment, we’re still a grad student family, biding our time…waiting to arrive.
We have each other. We see our path together, but it’s not the same as walking it in a community.
I had a professor once say, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” This is probably one of the greatest gems I received from my education. Loneliness is seeing a destination without someone to share the journey.
I find myself looking over my shoulder for my Samwise Gamgee. One of my favorite quotes in literary history comes from that sweet, kind friend:
“Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”
How nice for Frodo. How nice that David had Jonathan, right? Now don’t get me wrong: I have my husband, and he is the best companion I could ever want. But a big part of what we are doing right now is for his journey. His cause. And I’m only as supportive as I am strong.
Was I a better wife when we lived in Davis and I had friends carrying me through the rough patches? Was I a better mom because I saw myself as a team player instead of a soloist?
Today I fight a bullying current of loneliness with a solitary paddle. I know it’s not forever. Maybe not even for long; but my goodness I’m tired. So tired I worry that the paddle may fall. And then what?
I’m airing my soul today, folks. Clearing the air so that I can move forward. Are you on a solitary journey? Do you need a Samwise Gamgee or a Jonathan?