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  • Writer's picturedavidauten


Loneliness is an especially difficult sort of suffering, an aching emptiness ultimately unavoidable, inseparable from the solitary nature of what it is to be an individual, a confirmation that our most meaningful forms of fulfillment are found not apart but with, not in separation but symbiosis, and not through the brawny myth of a lone ranger but the tender and untidy joys and struggles of life together. Loneliness hurts in a unique way through absence rather than presence. Instead of pain piercing us, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, there is aching through deletion and isolation; the disappearance of a friend, the erasure of a lover, the gradual or sudden hiddenness of kin with whom we have laughed, learned, cried, fought, and journeyed. It is the persisting evanescence of loneliness that makes it particularly difficult to manage, a void both longing for and resisting satiation, for we know full well the particular presence there prior to this hole in our lives cannot be easily matched or simply replaced. It is no surprise in the prison system that solitary confinement is reserved as a last resort and severe form of punishment beyond incarceration, what Nelson Mandela called “the most forbidding aspect of prison life,” for while the body can subsist with food and water the spirit is utterly undone through interpersonal deprivation. Whereas solitude can be a welcomed and even necessary respite to the weary and overstimulated, gently opening the mind to the therapies of self-care and self-reflection, solitude imposed rather than chosen, and for unusual amounts of time, commonly has a corrosive effect, eating away at a person from the inside. Admittedly, there are not many remedies for the hollowness of loneliness, though naturally friendship is one of them. Teddy Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president of the United States, lost his beloved wife and mother on the very same day. The double loss thrust him into a deep depression for some time. When he finally began to surface from that dark space, Roosevelt named one thing in particular that helped him the most: the friendship of nature. Caressed by a cooling breeze, shook to the core by a thunderclap overhead, finding consolations in the clouds and strength in the sky, mountains, and trees, these friends without words he discovered could be a salve for the soul, elevating the mind from the muck and mire of a lonesome existence, a touching and tacit reminder we are never truly alone.


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