In recent years, the global health community has been concerned about the rising Loneliness Epidemic. Global health service company Cigna released a research study in January of 2020 revealing that 61% of Americans are lonely. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic totally disrupted the world, isolating millions of Americans.
Over the past year, life has become so bizarrely complicated. Some aspects of our lives are so different and others are almost completely unchanged. Sorrow and joy co-exist in our everyday experiences.
I just finished re-reading Charles Dickens’s classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, and it accurately captures my feelings during this season.
His most famous line opens the novel:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Sometimes the best of times and the worst of times happen simultaneously. Our time is filled with an odd mixture of beautiful and difficult moments. One thing feels so normal and the next so foreign. One day is filled with laughter and the next with tears. Right now, we’re living in that tension between the spring of hope and the winter of despair. And to be real, these days it feels much more often like the winter of despair.
We’ve all faced our own unique challenges over the last year. While I’m grateful for being spared many of the hardships others have endured, no one has escaped completely unscathed.
In an October 2020 study by the University of Miami, researchers discovered that 65% of young adults have experienced increased loneliness since the beginning of the pandemic. People in my life stage are already prone to struggling with isolation, and the past few months have been some of the loneliest I’ve ever known.
A close friend of mine wisely observed last week that it’s as if we’ve pushed “pause” on our lives. We’re all searching for ways to feel normal, but we’re also holding out because we’re not satisfied with the normal we’re supposed to accept.
We need to start living in this moment.
Our culture tells us the cure to loneliness lies in doing whatever makes us feel good. We turn to distractions and addictions — anything to shut out the emptiness that threatens to overwhelm us. But maybe the answer to our heartache isn’t self-care or online shopping or trying to fill the void inside ourselves with whatever we can find. Maybe loneliness can only be cured by looking outside of ourselves.
The hero of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, spends his entire life feeling worthless. But at the end of the novel, he bravely chooses to die to save the woman he loves. His act of selflessness mirrors that of One who died for all humanity 2,000 years ago. In Carton’s sacrifice, he finds true meaning, purpose, and hope. Perhaps we can learn from his final words:
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.
“I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more. I see Her with a child upon her bosom, who bears my name. I see her father, aged and bent, but otherwise restored, and faithful to all men in his healing office, and at peace. I see the good old man, so long their friend, in ten years’ time enriching them with all he has, and passing tranquilly to his reward.
“I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other’s soul, than I was in the souls of both.
“I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, fore-most of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place– then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement –and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
Let’s strive to step far enough outside of ourselves to see the beautiful cities and brilliant people in our communities. Let’s search for the hope that allows us to discover light in the midst of darkness. And let’s have the courage to do far, far better things than we have ever done, so we can experience a far, far better rest than we have ever known.