Take a look at yourself, surrounded by people. It seems impossible to feel this way, living in a populous city, walking amongst a throng of people on a busy street, existing in a world of seven billion connected by the internet. There is not a day that goes by that you are not in contact with people.
How could you ever say you were alone?
You wave ‘good morning’ to your neighbours, share a story about a ‘crazy thing that happened that day’ to a friend, ask ‘how are you’ to your co-workers. In those moments, you have smiled, laughed and felt present, connected. These spaces belong to you. These moments repeating, a daily occurrence for you.
How could you ever say you were lonely?
Then, when the conversation ends and you are given a moment of pause, just long enough for it to catch up to you — the abyss, an endless whirlpool sitting in your chest. It isn’t exactly sadness, for there was no loss. It isn’t frustration, save for the frustration of revisiting this feeling. You recognise it as loneliness, empty and all-encompassing, and you wonder:
How could this be? How could I feel lonely when I am surrounded by more than the presence of people?
You think about it.
Maybe it’s because —
What might have triggered —
Perhaps I should —
You try to think about it. Every wisp of a thought getting caught in the whirlpool and disappearing. So frustrating, especially when your mind becomes overcrowded with:
You become acutely aware that you were merely one grain of sand on a beach that stretches for kilometres. When the waves carry sand, it does not care for a clump to stay together, it takes the grains it pleases and leaves the rest. You understand that you are a part of a whole, the grain of sand that helps form a beach. But it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of it all, there is just you.
Alone. You exist alone.
Over the years, as you changed schools, as you graduated, as you started working, your world expanded. You moved through each stage of your life accumulating names, faces, characters. All these people you call friends. You cultivate every friendship with a great connection, strong emotions, a sense of belonging. There is a hope that perhaps this friendship would last forever, this one is special. Then, the tide of life washes over and pulls the both of you in different directions.
You make promises to keep in touch with each of them only to feel an acute sense of disconnect as the distance grows exponentially with each passing month. Your conversations become shorter and out of sync. You interrupt each other more often, say the wrong things, fail to understand their humour. Their presence no longer feels as comforting, the meaning behind their words hard to decipher. The friendship has lost the lynchpin that held it all together. Was it mere proximity that made you friends?
Will all friendships fall apart this way? You imagine yourself five years into the future, but you feel no certainty that the few friends around you will stay. And it hurts, this expectation of loss. You recognise that it is an inevitable part of life, but somehow that only makes it sadder.
Then, you begin to wonder who will be there with you in twenty, thirty, forty years and where your place in the world will be. With everyone running their own course, there is no assurance that anyone will stay. No assurance, except that the only constant through it all will be yourself.
The waves continue to push and pull, and nothing, nobody stays with you.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that, after all, it is simply life. What’s so wrong with ending up alone? Nihilists agree with you, there is nothing wrong because nothing matters. Absurdists encourage you to pick the answer that best soothes you, but not to worry too much because after death it simply won’t matter. Existentialists comfort you that no matter what you make of it, it will turn out right because what is right is what you decide.
In a sense, these schools of thought all offer plausible solutions. Sometimes you can forget the loneliness and these truths don’t bother you. Sometimes you sit with loneliness and anticipate the inevitability of the end of a connection, but it is far and forgettable. Sometimes you hold out hope that maybe this time this connection will endure, maybe you won’t be alone.
But that’s only sometimes.
Other times, well other times it feels suffocating. Other times it is impossible to put a positive spin on it. Other times it catches you in a riptide and you try in vain to escape it, but you are at the mercy of this single, immutable fact.
During these other times, you hold onto the fact that eventually the tide has to break and everything will be okay again. But you know that the next riptide is around the corner, that you still remain a single grain of sand.
Just as we all are — single grains of sand.