Question: I'm divorced and never remarried. My parents are deceased and my two children are grown. I recently relocated and am trying to make connections, but that's much harder to do later in life. I'm lonely and have even started thinking this will be my lot in the afterlife. After all, if we're supposed to reconnect with our loved ones and our soul mate, who will be there for me? I'd appreciate any words of encouragement for me in this life and the next.
— D., via email@example.com
Answer: I'm so sorry for your loneliness. It would be supremely arrogant of me to imagine that I could wipe it all away with a few words. Basically, you need hugs, not words.
Mother Teresa said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."
I don't want you to be poor that way, but you must find a way into meaning, hope and love on your own. This is the truth of our individuality. We're all on journeys, but they are solitary journeys at their core. Here are some other thoughts from famous and wise people that might keep you company on your journey:
Stop thinking so much about how lonely you are.
Chuang Tzu, the 5th century BCE Chinese philosopher, wrote, "You never find happiness until you stop looking for it."
OK, that may be too Zen for you but he had a point. Everybody has trials and tribulations, and obsessing about your burdens can blind you to your blessings. Also, not having an intact family close by shouldn't prevent you from making other connections.
As comedian George Burns remarked, "Happiness is having a large, loving, close-knit family — in another city."
Try picking a charity to which you can devote your energies. Getting out of your way by helping others may bring you new friends and more importantly, a new purpose for your life.
Helen Keller did this for the cause of blind people.
She wrote, "Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."
You not only have a life to live, you also have work to do. Getting involved with a church, synagogue or other religious institution could be the context for your charitable efforts, or you might get involved in a charity with a vision that's not specifically religious.
Either way, you'll be bound up in that effort with other people, and that binding will strengthen you. A saying of the Masai tribe in Africa (also found in rabbinic teachings) makes this point with simple wisdom: "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. Sticks alone can be broken by a child."
Keep your hope alive.
I bless the buses from the North Shore Animal League each year that traverse the country, taking animals from remote shelters to high-traffic malls so they can be adopted.
On the side of one bus, I saw a cartoon by Patrick McDonnell, who draws the "Mutts" comic strip.
A cat is shown cogitating. In the first panel, the cat says, "I know what it's like to be alone in a cage...waiting for a kindness from a stranger..."
In the second panel, he continues: "You wait...and wait...Hoping...praying...thinking, 'Life shouldn't be like this'..."
In the last panel, he closes with: "You know you can do more... Be more... You hold onto the dream... You just wish someday you could share it with someone."