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IDEMA: What are the antidotes to loneliness?

• Nov 21, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, a time when family and friends gather to celebrate all the blessings in our lives and in our country. But many people have no family to join for cheer and wonderful food. Many people feel lonely and isolated in a country that seems so divided and where tribalism has resulted in people being at each other's throats.

The Russians interfered in our 2016 election by using social media, especially Facebook, to post false stories intended to divide us by skin color, guns, political party, sexual orientation and gender. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, with the help of our deep political divisions.

Does all this division and alienation make you feel lonely, even depressed?

Loneliness is a powerful theme in western culture. The Beatles famously sang, in "Eleanor Rigby," about "all the lonely people" and wondered "where do they come from?" Loneliness was a constant theme in Roy Orbison's hits; his first big hit being titled "Only the Lonely."

Humphrey Bogart usually played a lonely man, as in "Casablanca," or playing the lonely detective in movies such as "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep” who returns at night to a lonely apartment where by himself he sloshes down some whiskey. One of his most famous movies is titled "In a Lonely Place."

Westerns, so popular in the 1950s, echoed the theme of loneliness. Gary Cooper in "High Noon" has to face the outlaw Frank Miller and his gang all alone, being abandoned by every member of the community he was hired to protect as their marshal; even abandoned by his wife, played by Grace Kelly, until she has a change of heart when she hears the shooting. And remember Alan Ladd in the movie "Shane," as he rides into the Teton area of Wyoming all alone, and leaves it, wounded, all alone in the final scene of the movie?

Some sociologists speculate that loneliness became endemic in big cities when urbanization accelerated in the early 20th century, and that people used alcohol to cope with their feelings. Prohibition was a failed response to this social disease. I think our present drug problem has to do with the loneliness in rusted-out cities which have lost their factories. The loss of jobs in states like Michigan and Ohio has been devastating to the soul.

I am convinced that our obsession with social media reinforces our loneliness. Instead of talking to a friend face to face, we text or email. At the YMCA, people used to talk to each other more than they do now, since so many people working out are using a device to tune out by tuning in to music or messages. On Facebook, you see that so many people are enjoying life, trips and love, whereas you are sitting home all alone. Nursing homes are some of the loneliest places you will ever visit.

While writing this article, all of a sudden an ad appeared on my computer screen asking me, "Are you lonely? If so, join seniordating.com."

What is the solution? A connection to others, being part of a community, spending time with real people instead of images on a screen. From my perspective, being involved in a church community is part of the healing process of what ails us. Many churches host Thanksgiving dinners for those who feel left out. I belong to Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, which has a wonderful caring community, but there are many others on the lakeshore. If your church is cold, find one that is warm!

I will close with this quotation from the novel "The Big Sky" (1947), written by A.B. Guthrie Jr., who wrote the screenplay for the movie "Shane." This is a novel about Wyoming and Montana in the early 1800s, and here the narrator reflects upon what the West means and has meant to the American soul:

"A raw, vast, lonesome land, too big, too empty. It made the mind small and the heart tight and the belly drawn, lying wild and lost under such a reach of sky as put a man in fear of heaven. It was the little things that made one at home in the world, that made him happy and forgetful; neighbors to hail and supper on a table and a good woman to love, and the tavern and fire and small talk, and walls and roofs to shut out the terrors of God, except for a glimpse enough to keep the sinner Christian."

Community, family, good food, love, faith in God and a healthy respect of his power, good neighbors, a fire in the family room, a loving church — these are some of the antidotes to loneliness.

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist

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