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Monday, March 31, 2008

Identifying Loneliness

Several years ago I read a book called Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull and I still think about several passages from the book.

Here's a brief blurb describing what the book is about from Amazon.com: "In a nursing home in California, WWI vet Patrick Delaney is fighting new battles: against old age (he's 81), stomach cancer and the knowledge of his encroaching death. This earnest, elegant first novel takes the form of Patrick's diary, in which he details the humbling infirmities of an aging body and looks back at the defining moments of his life--the war itself, when he lost his best friend, Daniel, and the brief but intense love affair he had 10 years later with Daniel's grieving lover, Julia."

One of the passages that has stuck with me is Patrick's view of loneliness as he spends his final days in a nursing home. Here's how he describes it:

It is said that life is too short and that's quite true, unless you are lonely. Loneliness can bring time to its knees; an absolute and utter standstill.

I've always judged places and times by how lonely they felt. The entire Midwest, for example, strikes me as horrifically lonely, Indiana more so than Wisconsin and Wisconsin more so than Ohio or Illinois. Coasts are dependably less lonely than inland areas while the warmer latitudes are noticeably less lonely than the colder ones. Hardware stores feel lonely while bookstores do not. Mornings are lonelier than afternoons, while the hours before dawn can be devastating. Vienna is lonelier than Paris or London, while Los Angeles is lonelier than San Francisco or Boston. The Atlantic Ocean is lonelier than the Pacific while the Caribbean is not lonely at all.

And then there are nursing homes.

I like how Patrick didn't feel the need to elaborate about what made all of these places lonely. They were his experiences and and apparently he wanted to keep them to himself. All of us could make such a list and I've had one swirling around in my head for a while.

Here's mine:

Short solo drives around town are lonelier than long solo trips. Watching television alone is lonelier than watching a movie alone. Sitting in airports is lonelier than sitting in ER waiting rooms. And listening to the radio is lonelier than listening to a favorite CD or MP3.

Mornings are fine. Afternoons, not so much. November and December are lonelier than the other ten months. And Mondays are lonelier than the other six days.

Chicago is much lonelier than Memphis, Santa Fe, Amarillo, or Naples. Denver is slightly lonelier than Kansas City or Minneapolis. And Fargo, well, I was too young to remember.


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