It’s not so often these days that I rise before the sun or that I get to really appreciate the stillness that exists in the hours before life reawakens. A bad cough and a poorly thought out remedy (coffee) has quickly rectified this and so here I’m sat, in the dark, wondering if my absence will soon be felt. I can hear stirring now but yet it seems only the wind wishes to remind me that I am not forgotten, gusting against my windows like a friend knocking impatiently at the door. ‘Let me in’ it seems to shout. ‘I know you’re awake and I am too. I am here even when you don’t notice me. I am forever your friend’.
I’m reminded now of a young gentleman I heard speak on a Radio Four phone-in just yesterday – the topic being ‘how to combat loneliness’. Whilst Chris and I had been deep in random conversation as we delivered flowers for a family business, this well spoken man had entered our reality by intimately sharing his very modern-day problem. ‘I have an excellent job, I drive a new car, I have it all really… but when I look at my Christmas tree I feel sad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful tree but that’s the thing – I know no-one will see it but me. I have everything but no-one’. His final words have haunted me somewhat since. How can a healthy man of my age feel so desperately lonely? This wasn’t a house-bound pensioner I was hearing from, it wasn’t a disabled woman or a homeless man – it wasn’t someone my mind could easily label and rationalise. Worse still, his pain was very real – almost tangible I’d say, and his statement left something hanging. The answer.
I had laughed earlier when an elderly woman had shared her rather obvious solution to the issue – ‘the best thing to combat loneliness I’ve found is to get out and meet with people’. Of course in her simplicity she was right, but equally it is understandable why for some people that may be a difficult thing to do – say for example for those with mobility problems. What I was struggling to understand was why a fit and healthy young man couldn’t apply this basic solution to his life – why he couldn’t create that human company he so desired. Was this the burden of a generation of social media I wondered, where ‘friends’ are numbered rather than known or was it something even more sinister, are we living in a time of ‘presents’ and not ‘presence’? Although tragic to hear this man’s pain, his story brought new meaning to my own which in some ways has been all encompassing of late.
This week I have sat and cried in company over the desperateness of our lifestyle decisions – the harsh reality being an empty fridge, unpaid bills and a boat constantly in need of more. I have honoured the winter solstice within a circle of spiritual souls and reflected on my need for a deeper belief in easier times ahead. I have shared coffee and cake, freshly baked, with old and new friends as we swapped stories of self-sustainability and the gloriousness of freedom from a society of need. I have written to people I have lost touch with and bumped into those that I don’t see so often and in amongst all of this I have loved and have been loved. At a time when we have had the least materially and financially, we have been reminded how much we have on a human level – and the freedom we have to enjoy that.
Beyond this though, I have also come to appreciate that the energy that we seek from others doesn’t have to be in the form of a person. Loneliness doesn’t have to be overcome through contact with another human in the same way the wind doesn’t need a physical body to show me its presence. A dog for example, can often be better company than a casual acquaintance and for many people that has been a credible solution to their isolation. For those who are unable to share their lives with a pet, perhaps the answer can be found in nature. We are all energy, we all live and die in the same way and sharing in that process can help nurture the soul. How many gardeners speak of talking to their plants and the peace they feel when working with them? Just yesterday I delivered a collection of flower arrangements to various partially sighted individuals across my hometown and I noticed something time and time again. As I stood on their doorsteps watching them delight in the scent of their surprise gifts, I understood that that energy – albeit non-human – would continue to bring pleasure long after I had left their company. They would nurture the flowers with water and even food in the same way they would provide for a child or friend. In this instance, the ‘present’ was also a ‘presence’ of sorts.
As the world now begins to awaken around me, I am left with a deep sense of peace – the wind is no longer my only company which has instead been swallowed by the sound of rushing traffic. Perhaps I needed that cough, perhaps I should have chosen that coffee, perhaps the darkness and the call of the wind weren’t such second rate company. I may not be able to reply to the gentleman now in my thoughts but if I could, I’d urge him to open his heart and mind to the possibility that presence can be felt in all energy and that in accepting this, he could never be truly alone. I’d also invite him to talk boats and eat cake with Chris and I and if we were feeling brave, I’m sure we (Chris) might even suggest the obvious. That what he and others are seeking won’t ever be found in the capitalist trap that he’d found himself in and that there is another way. I for one am grateful for all the personal reminders of this that have helped to carry us through the dark winter months. Solstice blessings, happy Christmas and thank you for your company.