By Karen Mannino Monday, December 2nd, 2013
Something about the Advent hymn, Oh Come Emmanuel always makes me feel a little lonely. Around this time of year, there is nothing more tragic than loneliness. I overhear stories on the bus of thanksgiving weekends devoid of gratitude, kindness or even loving family. Losing a loved one can make this time of year hard. And there are a host of inane secular songs about how horrible it is to be single during the Christmas season.
As a Catholic woman committed to a single life, I know that loneliness will be my cross sometimes. It is certainly the thing well meaning friends and acquaintances warn me of the most when I tell them that I will never marry. I want to reassure them that alone and lonely are not the same thing. I want to tell them that I am never lonely. That would make me a liar.
I have realized that I treat loneliness like a character flaw. I fall into victim blaming tendencies. I don’t want to admit that it can, and does happen to me, even when I am busy and around people who love me. Loneliness is the shameful state of needing other people to appreciate me. I am disgusted by single women who pine away without a man in their lives. I want to tell girls who live in pensive unrest to suck it up and become the woman God is calling her to be. Forget preparing for marriage, prepare for life.
Unfortunately, just living a social life of service and love does not keep loneliness away. Romantic relationships are not fail safe armor either. On Thursday, I was hit with a surprise shot of loneliness. My family was all around; a merry group, laughing and playing games. I believe in good clean friendship as a remedy for most everyday kinds of loneliness. Many of my closest friends live on the other side of the country. Loneliness was the unexpected pain that came with going to school so far away. I was often lonely while I was away from home, and there were people who consoled me. I can’t win, because now I live at home and feel lonely for my school friends. I live with a cold piece somewhere in my chest that I carry with me as I go about my life. Most of the time, it is small and unnoticeable. The love of my family and friends here keeps it at bay. But now and then it grows to a pain that weighs down my day to day activities. I feel guilty for letting it get to me. There are things I can do. But at it’s worst, I have a hard time making an effort. Maybe we all carry a little cold piece around, some bigger, some smaller, that weighs us down once in a while, or even quite often. There is no getting rid of it. Patients, I have heard, is the art of suffering well.
We are meant to know, and be known to each other the way God knows and loves us. Since loneliness is part of our human condition, couldn’t we let this connect us, instead of isolating us? The suffering comes and goes for me. When it is not so bad, I can reach out and connect to people, knowing there will be days when I will need them to reach out to me. And when I can’t avoid, or allay the pain, Christ is there. Christ on the cross is patient. I can give pain meaning by joining it to the cross.
Advent is the lonely season. It’s cold outside and the days keep getting darker earlier. This is part of living in time. Most of our experience is made up of temporal things. Things that pass. But light one small candle. Hope that consolations will come. We have been promised that there will be a final end of loneliness for us. Not a romantic relationship, or a comfortable closeness of many dear friend, but a life altering setting right of hearts. All temporal things shall pass for good. This is what we long for in Advent. Come, Emmanuel, God With Us, to melt the cold pieces forever with infinite love that finally fills us.
Karen Mannino never writes about things she is sure of. She mostly writes what she is thinking about, or trying to figure out, from a couch in Spokane, WA.