The other day I was sitting at my desk, idly Googling “loneliness human condition” — you know, as one does — and two results jumped out at me. The first was from the novel “White Oleander” by Janet Fitch. I’ve never read the book, but if the following passage is any indication, surely here we have located the bitter and bilious underbelly of Oprah bookdom:
“Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”
God, the first time I read that I laughed so hard it almost made Diet Coke come out my nose. “Murderous with disappointment”! How brilliant is that! That phrase alone makes me want to go out right now and get completely hammered with Janet Fitch. Anyone who could craft such a succinct and pitch-perfect Devastationalist credo is all right in my book. And the crazy thing is, this quote turns up on dozens of blogs and personal web pages where people aggregate their favorite and most inspiring quotes. Apparently some kind of scarily misanthropic nerve has been struck here. I still strongly doubt I could ever bring myself to actually read the book, but the movie is now in my Netflix queue — I’ll happily pay to see Michelle Pfeiffer speak those words.
The second quote, which also turned up in more than one of the Google search results, is by a Seattle-born Theravadan Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho:
“We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: ‘Let’s talk to each other; let’s do things together so we won’t be lonely.’ And yet inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can pretend; we can entertain each other; but that’s about the best we can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we’re very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.”
To me the interesting thing is that he’s using almost the exact same words as the protagonist of “White Oleander” but his message is meant to be one of comfort and transcendence, in contrast to her message of embitterment and isolation. It just kills me how tiny and subtle the difference is between these two mortally opposed ways of looking at the world. You can read the entire essay here.
Certainly, I’ve held both viewpoints at various times. Life events and certain kinds of inner temperaments can isolate you and leave you feeling stranded or alienated, but our minds still try to find ways to reach out to each other, across great distances of both time and space if necessary, to feel the reassuring thrum of psychic resonance. Not that it’s always easy to achieve. But as far back as I can remember I’ve never felt completely disconnected, and that’s because of music.
Music made me feel less alone, and I know that’s a big part of why I surrendered so completely to it. And I mean it made me feel less alone literally, in the sense of a community to belong to and lyrics that miraculously were generous enough to encompass my misfit concerns. But I also mean it in the abstract spiritual sense of being at home in the universe and feeling connected to humanity.
Speech and gestures and body language and sex are all wonderful, of course, but sometimes they are simply not enough to communicate the things we need to communicate. Sometimes they are not even enough to provide evidence that we are engaging with living conscious spirits similar to our own. Music (and not just music, of course, but all art) provides that evidence when we need it the most, and communicates some of the things words and gestures are helpless to convey.
Wide Eyed Fool