Doctors played your dosage like a card trick
Scrabbled down the hallways yelling, “Yahtzee!”
I brought books on Hopper, and the Arctic
Something called “The Politics of Lonely”
A toothbrush and a Quick Pick with the plus
You tried not to roll your sunken eyes
And said “Hey can you help me? I can’t reach it”
Pointed to the camera in the ceiling
I climbed up, blocked it so they couldn’t see
Turned to find you out of bed and kneeling
Before the nurses came, took you away
I stood there on a chair and watched you pray.
-The Weakerthans, “(Hospital Vespers)”
Do you ever wonder if trees are lonely without their leaves? No, of course not. Of course they’re not lonely. Or, of course you never wonder about whether or not trees are lonely without leaves. Snow falls softly on a tree in winter, wraps it warmly, like a blanket, like a heavy blanket.
I see lonely people everywhere. I see a man in the park, drinking Canadian whiskey from a cheap plastic fifth. He’s fishing in Lake Macatawa. These are dark days, maybe he thinks. There’s something for him in the water, hopefully. I see a kid at a coffee shop, books piled high, cortado sipped low, seltzer water untouched. No one ever talks to him, at a place where pretty much everyone talks to everyone else. I see a woman, walking her dog for hours. She has long arms, so she carries the leash low, near the top of her dog’s head. Her steps are measured and short, and she doesn’t move quickly.
The number one cause of loneliness is when people do not talk to you. These people I see, no one talks to them, not when I’m looking. Probably, though, none of these people is lonely. They look lonely, sure, but who’s to say?
Do you ever wonder where the leaves go when they fall? Or what it actually means for something to decompose? Or if dogs get lonely?
I’m not lonely. I’m really not. I know writing those two sentences makes my case less than convincing, but I’m not lonely. Yet sometimes I can feel another person’s loneliness—it emanates and moves into me like a force-field. For a second, my heart folds into itself, and a sharp pain, not so much physical but still a pain, shoots through me. It all passes in a flash, fast enough that I can pretend it wasn’t ever there. But then the questions come: Who else is lonely? What is capable of loneliness? How much loneliness can we handle?
We can’t end loneliness, not in this life. Not with a campaign or a Gofundme. There will always be chemotherapy wards and hospitals, abandonment and cold-heartedness and, well, retirement homes. So fall softly as you go into your places, like snow onto empty branches, like a weighted blanket.