Saturday, May 9, 2015

the L-word

When it comes to race, there's the "n-word."
When it comes to cussing, there is the "f-bomb."
And when it comes to old age, there is the "l-word."

"Loneliness," when it is mentioned in connection with old age, seems invariably to be paired with bulwarks and bastions that can be employed to combat it. Volunteer, get some exercise, join a book club, find an activity and ... well, among other things, keep loneliness at bay; reassert the habits of a lifetime and commit to a society-based pastime in which seldom mentions the "l-word."

The problem is that as various capacities dwindle -- energy sags, doctor visits increase, family disperses, companions disappear in one way or another, and interests flag -- it becomes harder to rely on the socially-accepted involvements that once shaped this life.

What was once a reliable touchstone loses its purchase.

Locally, there is a television show called "Schools Match Wits." On it, two teams of four or five students each, answer questions about history, math, culture, news and a bunch of others. They compete and I watch. And I marvel at how sharp and quick these kids are. But yesterday, my next-door neighbor Joe told me about watching the show and seeing both teams drawing an utter and complete blank when there was a question about "Katherine Hepburn," an movie actress of another era, my era. "Who the hell was Katherine Hepburn," the kids' faces asked. What was a thread in my tapestry or Joe's simply did not register. It had a lonely feel to it. But of course the kids could answer a lot of questions neither Joe nor I could have ... up to date stuff ... socially au courant stuff ... stuff that allowed them to feel, as Joe and I had once felt, less lonely.

Movie actresses may seem like small potatoes in the loneliness department, but I would argue that they too are part of the fraying of social connections and reassurances -- the stuff that keeps the "l-word" from being acknowleged by any except the smarm-meisters who promise to "fix" it.

And my addressing the issue is an open-invitation to yet more smarm-meistering, I guess. Loneliness hurts. It feels like a betrayal somehow ... all that past effort in order to be part of the social warp and woof and suddenly ... suddenly it turns to dust. It doesn't work, or, if it does, the efficiency is far less credible than it once was. The "l-word" gains traction.

Not to spin this out endlessly, my take is this:

All experience is by definition lonely. Past efforts at sharing or imagining experience could be shared is largely a matter of keeping the "l-word" at bay. Whatever the wonder or horror, whatever the "love" or screams, there is no camouflaging what anyone already knew: Experience is lonely and rather than fighting it, there is something to be said for acceding to what is simply true.

Trying to defeat loneliness is the same as pouring gasoline on a fire. Better is to turn around and walk willfully into the flames. What does loneliness imply? Seriously. Is loneliness a good thing or bad ... oh really? Just because there is a host of experience doing all the socially-acceptable-keep-busy stuff, does that experience have to be employed in order to somehow defeat loneliness?

First things first, I guess: You've got to get over the bad news. The horrific wartime nightmares are yours alone. The wondrousness of love is yours alone. The beauty and raw ugliness ... yours. The success and failure ... ditto. It doesn't matter if you think it's painful or worth combating. Experience is sui generis ... just like you...

Just like me being just like you.

There is no relief, but then, isn't it the smart move to ask who needs this relief and what weight really needs to be lifted?

The L-word is probably worse than the f-bomb because it clings and cloys and hurts and "goddammit, no one listens to me!"

Do you?

Do I?


  1. You kids get off my lawn....

  2. I think the opposite of lonely is assholes, to one degree or another. But when your plate is full of people, longing for some quiet time or even boredom seems likely.

    I remember loneliness and thinking that one special someone would fix everything. So i did some shopping and opened up a can of instant asshole. I wasn't satisfied with the can of instant asshole that was myself, opened and mouldering in the back of the fridge.

    People are difficult, they have needs and feelings. The person i am is difficult, i have needs and feelings. I can be lonely. I can be overwhelmed. I wonder if i can be satisfied, or at least get better at juggling cans.