Day 204

A single (divorced) friend  told me last week that she is lonely.

“I have to admit,” she said. “That I have been experiencing a lot of loneliness lately.”

Her lament  struck a deep chord in me,  because of all the things to fear in life, loneliness is the one I dread most.

Really, you ask? What about disease, alien invasion, nuclear war, terrorists, Wall Street collapse, and whatnot.   Those things are real, of course, but seem either remote, far away or out of my control, and anyway they  just don’t scare me. When I think of the  end of the world, I think about who I’d want to be with and who would want to be with me as the meteorite careened toward earth. Sure it’d be the end of all that we know, but in another way it’d be a chance to find out who my real friends are.

Loneliness is something I’ve experienced plenty in my life, and like so many emotions  it’s both a real feeling, and a trick of the mind. How else can we explain feeling lonely in a crowd, lonely when I’m at home with my pretty fab husband, lonely as I’m getting ready to go out to dinner with good friends, or often feeling the least lonely when I am…alone?

My mother was a lonely child — her sister was thirteen years older, and was already out of the house when my mother went to kindergarten. There are few photos of my mother as a little girl, and she is alone in all of them. She had one birthday party when she was five, and she married at 17 to get away from her sad home life. She started a family young, but her loneliness was contagious, and it spread to me.

Last week I was telling one of my lovely writing students that  I never wanted to do a walkathon or something that required me to ask for donations, because I knew (and yes, 20 years of therapy one does get to know oneself) that it would just be another artificial popularity proving ground I’d set up for myself. But I’m a BigWalker and a MyBigWalk Relay for Life team seemed not only obvious but the right thing to do. I assembled an awesome team of impressive and generous friends who are coming together to walk through the night to honor one another, celebrate survival, and raise money for research. And I’m the captain! Captains are always popular, right?

Here’s the catch: if I ask someone for a Relay for Life donation and don’t get a reply, I think it’s because I’m not clever enough, successful enough, or popular enough.

“So really, it’s like facebook,” Stacey said. “Just another one of those popularity contests life gives you just to prove you don’t have enough friends.”

“Exactly!” I said. That’s why I love teaching other writers — who else could have understood what I was trying to say, and expressed it so succinctly?

Sure, sure, the whole thing is about celebrating cancer survivors and memorializing those who fought bravely and lost — like my parents — but in some way it must be about me, and whether or not I have enough devoted friends. Right?

Wrong.

But it sure feels like that, sometimes. Having a blackberry to keep track of my emails, text messages that allow people to get in touch with me at any time of the day or night, and constant access to my email and facebook messages, can be the curse of an OCD-loneliness-impaired person such as myself.

Thank goodness for MyBigWalk. Seriously.

Just like intellectual activity is the mind’s escape from sadness and isolation,  walking is the whole-body antidote for loneliness. Not only does it give purpose and structure to the day — and as a writer, God knows I need as much of that as I can find — it gives me a reason to get out, to invite others to walk with me, and for others to invite themselves to come along on MyBigWalk.

Connecting with other people is one of the best antidotes for loneliness that there is. Doing it with purpose is even better.

Now, if only I could stop checking my facebook friend updates, I’d be in great shape.

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