Still, right now he’s pulled the cork out of a bottle, and it’s interesting watching him deal with it. He wrote a piece on lonely people, and how he had come to understand something of the value that the internet has for them. He wrote it from the perspective of being one of those happy people who does not get lonely, and I think he goes astray as he does. He wants to attribute it to causes, to lost loves or love never found, but I tend to think that some of us are simply prone to longing.
I don’t even know what we long for. Not necessarily for companionship, or love, or friendship and interesting conversation; I have all of those in abundance. I’ve been married seventeen years, and I know I am beloved. My children adore me the way that children often do adore their mother. I have friendships both in person and remote. And I return all of these sentiments wholeheartedly. I’m not achingly lonely the way I was as a teenager. But still…
An evangelical type might tell me I long for his version of God. Madison Avenue will happily detail all that I should long for, and how much I can save by buying it while it’s on special offer. Many Americans, particularly conservatives, will tell me that I long for liberty, here in “oppressive” Europe. Perhaps any or all of these people are right, but I doubt it. My experiences don’t match their assumptions.
Something in me longs for a place I feel at home; perhaps that’s it. This has been particularly sharp in the past few years, since my move to the Netherlands. Homesickness and culture shock are both flavors of loneliness. But I have lived abroad all my adult life. I left America at 23, and if I went back now, I would not fit in. Looking around my expat-heavy office, I see that many people learn to wear that strangeness with an ease I rarely find.
Mostly, I think, it’s just part of who I am. I’ve learned not to try to fill that longing with unsuitable things. (Or perhaps it would be better to say that I’ve learned to try not to fill it with unsuitable things. The lure of chocolate and unnecessary bookbinding supplies frequently causes me to fail.) One can live with this thing, as one lives with depression or fatigue.
The first article got a lot of comments, and Ebert has just followed it up with another post. He seems particularly struck by the impact that abusive families have on children (a matter we are not unacquainted with here, of course). But he still spends some time groping for an explanation, making it something beyond simple character. I am reminded of at least one counselor I went to in the past. We didn’t make it beyond one appointment.
Then he moves on to talk about the nature of the comments on his first article, which seem to him like nothing so much as an AA meeting:
Reading more than 400 comments under my previous entry, it occurred to me that I was attending a virtual meeting. Usually on a blog people will comment on each other’s posts. Disagree. Attack. Correct. Support. Lecture. I sensed there was something different about this group of comments. I caught on that they were mostly first person. They were about the experience of that writer. They said, This is what’s happening in my life. They said, Here is how I feel about it. Nobody wrote back saying, The trouble with you is… or suggesting What you should do… Nobody was corrected. Nobody was attacked. Everybody spoke.
I know those conversations. I love such threads deeply, here and elsewhere. I am honored when they’re something I started, and uplifted when I join them partway. That sort of intense honesty also brings me back to PostSecret every week.
Such community, I think, is balm for the longing person. Knowing that one is not alone, even in the feeling of isolation, is a powerful and empowering thing. And reaching out of one’s own solitude, making others feel valued and important, fills the incoherent hole better than chocolate.
Kudos to Ebert for recognizing it. And thanks to you, here, for being such a community.