I recently read an enlightening article in the American Spectator which discussed the problems caused by loneliness in America today. A National Science Foundation General Social Survey conducted by sociologists from Duke and the University of Arizona found that living alone is a lifestyle for about sixteen percent of the population, a three-fold increase in the last fifty years. If you also take into consideration the impact of single parent families, latch key children, and the limited interface between family members in a busy world, the impact of loneliness on the human psyche is much more prevalent. Since we humans are naturally social animals, the lack of sufficient time with others on a regular basis can result in a feeling of isolation which may result in higher levels of depression and the debilitation of social skills.
It’s a problem that we need to face because at some point many of us may be faced with life in this situation. It can be caused by death or divorce or be a voluntary response to rapidly changing life conditions with the nuclear family and an increasing reliance on technology as a replacement for social interface. But whatever the cause, it is with us and it has been with us for a long time.
In deciding how best to approach this subject, it suddenly hit me that this Friday is the anniversary of D Day in Europe, an event which caused widespread loneliness for many as their primary loved ones were overseas fighting wars both on the European continent and in the Pacific. While many came home months later, some never returned. In remembrance of D Day and the horrors of Normandy which our brave soldiers faced, this is a good time to remember the loneliness faced by so many loved ones waiting and worrying back home. There is no better way to understand it than through a story. I hope it makes you think about the nature of loneliness and the importance for us to live life to the fullest with full social interaction. After all, God made us to be with people.
It was late afternoon and Myrna was exhausted. Dedicated to her work, she knew it was important to finish turning the documents on her desk into smooth, final typed copy before leaving. Lonely and in her early twenties, her life revolved around her work in the typing pool and her church. She never thought life at this stage would be like this. At the end of the day, she had no one waiting at home.
A small framed pretty woman with a perfect complexion, beautiful dark eyes and long brown locks, she eschewed make-up other than lipstick and always wore her hair up in a bun under a hat when outside. Even when the hat was removed, Myrna never let her hair down except when she was home and alone. She didn’t want to be noticed; she just wanted to do a good job while maintaining a distance from her co-workers. She became more open with a few friends she trusted at church, but even then she was reserved and quiet. She was pleasant, but also sad and those around her sensed that. She rarely showed her sweet smile. Of course, many young women were sad in those days due to loved ones being away at war, but Myrna never indicated that she had any close loved ones. She seemed as if she had always been alone.
Myrna worked for the War Department in the casualty support unit. Her job consisted of getting combat death announcements in final form before next of kin were notified. She took her job seriously and was routinely cited for her excellent and error-free work. She just figured it was the least she could do and nobody in her office knew just how much she took each notice to heart.
Myrna had a big secret that she shared with no one, not even her pastor. When her boyfriend enlisted the prior year, two days after Pearl Harbor, the two had quickly eloped and married. They did so in a town fifty miles away where the only record was in the neighboring county courthouse. Since her parents were gone and she had no siblings no one had any reason to suspect she was married. She married her Paul so that he would know that she was committed to him and would wait for him while he was at war. She kept her secret so that she wouldn’t worry anyone else.
Except for the night after their civil ceremony and on the weekend before he was sent overseas, she had not spent any intimate time with him. And now, with him off in the South Pacific where the war was going poorly, she lived in constant dread that one of those documents crossing her desk for typing would be one with his name on it. Despite her feelings of dread, she never showed any emotion to others even though she was crying inside.
That evening on her way home from work she remembered it was Wednesday and it was the one day other than Sunday when her church had a short prayer service and social gathering. She decided to stop by as it was only a couple of blocks from her apartment and the stop where she caught the bus.
The church was well lit and cheery as she entered and immediately walked down the stairs to the social hall. Pastor Millwood saw her and gave her a big hug saying, “We’re glad you came, Myrna. You just seem so sad and maybe some time with God’s people will cheer you up.”
She thanked him for his thoughts, said hello to a few friends, and then all were seated for the prayer session. Each was asked to say a silent prayer and then afterwards they could share their thoughts if they desired.
Then Pastor Millwood would wrap it up with a grand finale. He had such a gift with words and was so upbeat always; it helped everyone in this mostly ladies audience, many of whom had loved ones in harm’s way.
Myrna closed her eyes and prayed a very simple prayer saying, “Lord, Thank you for the love and devotion that you give to me. Be with my Paul and keep him safe. Let him know how much I love him and care for him. And give me the strength to remain strong and carry on as he would want me to do. Keep my heart focused on the Spirit and away from all forms of evil. Amen.”
Myrna chose to keep her thoughts to herself, enjoyed a cup of soup and some delicious homemade bread and said her goodbyes. At least she wouldn’t have to prepare any dinner when she got home. She hated eating alone.
As she entered her small apartment, she turned on the radio for the news and got ready for bed. She sat up long enough to hear the latest from the Pacific front and about the fighting on the islands. She shook slightly as she thought of Paul on a faraway island which was possessed by fear and hate. She prayed that he would survive physically intact and without any lasting psychological scars.
As she crawled into bed and turned off the lights and the radio she looked at the ceiling and again softly asked God to please keep Paul safe and return him to her. Then she cried herself to sleep, knowing that life had to go on.
In sleep she finally found peace as she dreamed of sitting on a beautiful beach and enjoying Paul’s company. Oh, if only her dream could last forever so that her loneliness would be gone. That would bring her the joy and happiness that her life was missing.
I hope that this little story effectively portrayed how this young woman, who desperately wanted a life of happiness and joy with the man she loved, sank into isolationism and hidden despair through no fault of her own. It was a situation faced by many who had their life directly impacted by war and it was beyond her control to influence. The only thing left she had to sustain her was her faith and her prayers.
And now in modern day America there are so many more factors which sadly can cause an enforced loneliness in lifestyle. Our modern, anything goes morays often lead to divorce which breaks up more and more families. For others, the desire to actually build a family is given up, choosing to live a lifestyle without commitment and family ties. The advent of the nuclear family has also taken away much of the life enriching value of the close multi-generational family, with no commitments or responsibility for one another. And finally, the advent of the internet, social media, and such technology as I-phones has killed off much of the needed social interactions that we need in a personal setting. “Talking” on-line is much different than the closeness of actual human interpersonal contact. In short, we find ourselves alone more often without even realizing it.
So is there anything we can do or anyone who can help us recover our good social health? Yes, there is. We can turn to God and use our faith to help us. God is the one who can keep us from being alone no matter where we find ourselves and by listening to His word and following His guidance we can restructure ourselves to bring our social selves more alive in all that we say and do. To truly live our lives as He intends, it is something that we need to do, for He expects us to live in a community of others to carry out his mission for us.
God bless each of you, and please take the time to analyze your own experience and see where or if something is lacking. If you are alone and become aware of its adverse impact, get some help and turn life around. Life with people in it, people you care for and love, makes living so much better. It’s never too late to change. And never forget those brave souls who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live free.