You can find my editorial on Memorial Day in today’s Chicago Tribune [both print & digital editions] under the title “Living Legends”
The good news is that in this Internet age you and I will never have to be alone again. Or maybe when you think about it, this is actually the bad news. However you choose to think about it, being alone can be debated; but being lonely cannot. Loneliness is a killer.
C.S. Lewis put it best when he said: “Friendship is born in that moment when one person says to another: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” Marcel Proust then completed the thought: “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
As is usually the case, some of us my age are perfectly willing to go with the solid insights of our best writers like Lewis and Proust. These, though, are very different times; now we seem to require additional scientific evidence. Not to worry — a thousand neurobiologists to the rescue!
We are not saying science has no say in the matter of loneliness. But we are saying it needn’t hog the show with its physiological data; for you see my physiology is not me anymore than I am my physiology. For instance in the recent ‘The New Republic’ you will find an article by Judith Shulevitz which observes: “We’ve known intuitively that loneliness hastens death; but haven’t been able to explain how. Now we can show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack.”
To know this much is to know this much. Although it alone is hardly to know loneliness. For the total tragedy of that experience you need more than even our most exquisite scientific explanations. You deed to bury a spouse or a child or a parent. Or to travel the anguish in tales from ‘The Odyssey’ to ‘Anna Kerenina’ to ‘Look Homeward Angel.’ Or to sing late into the night sad songs like ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ to ‘My Buddy,’ to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters.’
Human loneliness is a feeling and feelings transcend physiology. Well, let me out it this way. If they don’t, then you and I are simply the synergy of our complex body parts. Something this confirmed theist refuses to believe. And you….?
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