Happy time of year.
Or so the song goes... But for many among us—more than some might imagine—Christmastime is a season of extended and burning unhappiness called loneliness. Happiness is not triggered by the beginning of the marketing blitz for Christmas shopping. Nor are those with small or sad or nonexistent families especially heartened by all the riot of required family festivities and family feeling. The lonely are asked what their Christmas plans are. The reply is in so many words, “There are no special plans. We will just hunker down at home—alone, again; and wait for it to end.” That’s a bit lacking in holiday cheer, is it not? And some do not even have a house in which to sulk. Others have houses, but no homes, but rather prisons. Many languish in prisons of other kinds.
For many, loneliness is intensified at just the time when a culture (supposedly) celebrates the Great Visitation, “God with us.” But are we with each other? Do we know each other? Can we see past the surface into the inner pain of our brothers and sisters? Loneliness is the great secret of postmodernity, and it deepens during times when we pretend mightily otherwise. As many critics have noted, community is breaking down in contemporary America. Community means (in part) civic participation: attending PTA meetings, voting, knowing your neighbors, volunteering, reading and grading student papers (instead of relying on machines to grade multi-guess charades), and much more. (See the revealing book, Bowling Alone.) Instead, we tend to cocoon: people whirl about in their iPod worlds, charge around in huge metal behemoths within a cacophonous cauldron of loud, rude, over-amplified sounds, stalk about in public muttering into the air (that is, to a distant cellular phone recipient), stare into video screens, playing video games with no one.
That is enough, or more than enough. Is there a solution? No, there is no grand solution—this side of the Eschaton. But there are small, simple steps to break up the glaciers of loneliness in our midst.
I leave it to you to tell this web log what these small acts of kindness might be. I further bid you divulge a few sentences of loneliness this holiday. It’s a poor excuse for the richly-textured realities of embodied community, but it might help. Or perhaps not.