A few days ago my sister wrote a story about a feeling of overwhelming loneliness, an encounter with an old man, a story shared, empathy and encouragement. It was sweet and it touched people and in the comments there was talk of tears, angels, sensitivity, blessing and all things beautiful.
But I got stuck in the dark cloud, intense feeling of grief and loneliness part of the story and I just couldn’t shake it. I just wanted to post – are you sure it wasn’t just about (or at least a little bit about) you feeling lonely? But I felt that would ruin the vibe of the thing so I waited to do it in person.
God knows I’ve felt that similar sense of overwhelming sense of loneliness and it doesn’t seem to have much at all to do with whether or not I have real friends or deep connections. I have those things. I shouldn’t be lonely but sometimes it hits me so hard it physically hurts.
You’d think that if anything, living in a pretty small village in the bush in Mozambique, bumbling my way along in my third language and not having much at all in common with anyone would leave me feeling pretty lonely. And it does sometimes but I don’t think I feel it as intensely as I do here and it’s had me wondering for a while now… why is that? What is it about life here that makes me feel less connected even though I understand the culture and language?
Obviously, there are a bunch of factors at play and you could argue that perhaps I just feel this way because I’m living in limbo between two worlds, not to mention a raging introvert. Maybe no one else is feeling lonely? I’ve got a suspicion though that it’s not just me.
Back home, people generally live in very close proximity to each other. If you’ve got a job to do, you’ll rarely be doing it alone – shelling peas, carting water, taking care of the kids – they’re all done together. Neighbours and family are always in and out of each other’s yards and there’s a running conversation through out the day/week/month/year – well life really, it just never stops. Here at home, I can go for days without speaking much to anyone.
Back home, it is pretty common practice to drop in on people unannounced. No one really prepares anything even if they know a friend is coming. If there’s food we might eat, if not – that’s ok too. Often through these casual catch ups and ongoing conversations, you find out about what’s going on around the place and the invites flow pretty freely. Here at home, catching up with people seems to involve a lot of planning – timing, venue, food and activities.
Back home, there’s not a lot to do and even if there was, no one has a car to go anywhere to do it. You’re with the same people day in day out, walking past the same people, sharing so much of life together. There’s an incredible sense of community and connection that comes with shopping, celebrating, eating, hanging out, chatting and playing all together in the one location. Here at home, it seems as though life is so spread out geographically, I feel like I’ve lost my connection to place. It’s so spread out in terms of social networks too – with so many activities on offer and very little overlap of people, it feels lonelier rather than more connected.
Just last week my tiny neighbour just dropped in casually. I was cooking dinner and she offered to help. We cracked eggs, grated cheese, mixed and baked and chatted. It was really special. After that, we decided that we should get the other bigger neighbours and have dinner together. It was spontaneous and lovely and full of noise and chaos and nothing done perfectly – everything I miss about being back home. But that interaction really only happened because we’ve been blessed beyond words to be living in a spot where neighbours can just drop in.
I don’t know what the answers are… it just seems like such a tough gig here. I reckon it might have something to do with incidental interactions, casual catchups, doing the boring things together and just embracing mediocre get togethers? But none of those things come easy anymore… it requires some intentionality.