Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness.”
Mother Teresa is an anti-choice criminal who let women and children suffer in poverty under her care instead of fighting for access to health care and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies and HIV/AIDS.
But most everyone agrees that nobody should be alone during the holiday season.
Well, except for me.
Our culture clumsily vilifies loneliness just as much as it proactively monetizes detachment and isolation. We create intentional systems and conditions that make people feel separate and isolated with the hope that they’ll spend money to alleviate their mental pain and anguish. Marketing agencies create tribes, and companies cater to raving fans. The American political system reinforces behaviors that tell us that some lives matter more than others.
Loneliness is common, universal and profitable.
So if you are alone on Thanksgiving, know that I know you. You’re probably alone all year round. I want you to know that there is a virtue in your solitude. Being alone doesn’t have to feel as depressing as people, systems and marketing campaigns tell you it should feel.
Being alone can be a positive catalyst for change.
Being alone can also be a dignified way to manage dysfunction and chaos in your life. When you choose to be alone instead of jumping into the pool of family-related confusion and turmoil, you set an example for those of us who want to live healthy, balanced lives but feel the pressing weight of obligations during the holiday season.
And being alone demonstrates positive self-control and self-determination. You could run around looking for someone to affirm your existence — a boyfriend, a wife, a group of friends who aren’t really friends — but you actively choose to sit with your loneliness and face what you already know: you can surround yourself with cats or with family members, but you leave this world the same way you came into this world. Might as well do with integrity.
Being alone can be an extension of depression. It can also be a marker of an introverted personality. But sometimes being alone is an impressive and mature response to the world that wants your heart, your mind, and your undivided attention — at a price.
Instead of vilifying loneliness, let’s learn from it and see the good in it.
And let’s stop saying that nobody should be alone during the holidays. If anything, the contemplative nature of the Christian calendar offers all of us an opportunity to settle down, turn down the noise, and have intimate conversations with ourselves.