Earlier this fall, during יום כיפור (Yom Kippur), one of the speeches talked about how we are alone in those services, in the sense that it is each of us individually at the seat of justice. It gave me the idea to write about “alone” versus “lonely” and my experiences with them.
First, let me give a couple operational definitions as I see the words. “Alone” means that a person is with their own thoughts or on their own accords. It is a state of mind, rather than necessarily a state of being. “Lonely” is also a state of mind, but it refers more to discontentment with the people in the surroundings, or someone who is discontent with solitude.
“Alone” is often a natural state for me, and is sometimes a good thing. For example, when I focus on work, my mind attempts to tune out other distractions (possibly excluding music) so that I am alone with my thoughts and attempts at work. This may be a component of my Asperger syndrome, in a protective way.
Speaking of Asperger syndrome, it tended to come up frequently when I was young, retreating into my own world as a defense mechanism against stimulus overload. In some sense, this could be a factor of “loneliness” as well, but I prefer to think of it as an attempt to be “alone.”
Additionally, “me time” is often in the mindset of “alone,” even when it is with friends or family members. The absence of other people is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the state of “alone.”
For me, I have had a few salient times of “loneliness.” Both happened to be on Sundays when I was in Chicago. The first was my first Sunday on my own in Chicago, September 13, 2009. I felt some sort of sadness as I rode my bike to get some groceries and supplies down the Channel Trail, as I felt that I had not built up any social connections in the first week. I had spent all my time riding my bike around Evanston and starting to set up my room. Granted, I did have some good social encounters with the field hockey and football games that I attended that week. I did meet many faces the next few days at the orientation, but I think that none of my current friends are part of that subset of people that I met.
The other was right after I returned from Israel, on July 31, 2011. This one should be fully understandable, as it went from the trip of a lifetime in Israel back to Chicago, and after Dina and her dad dropped me off, I was BOTH alone and lonely. I have a feeling that loneliness can strike after any sort of social trip, along with the dread of returning from vacation. Actually, this loneliness also struck me when I returned to Chicago after winter break my first year.
In some sense, I have a feeling that my issues of “loneliness” tend more to be fear of the beyond. Maybe it’s just that I need to allow myself to talk with friends and family members in cases that I have loneliness biting at me!
And once again, absence of people is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the state of “loneliness.” If I feel out of place at a social event, I can be in the state of “loneliness” despite being surrounded by people.
What are your thoughts on this distinction? This could be an interesting discussion.
Today is the twenty-eighth day of O.C.T.O.B.E.R. That makes four weeks and no days.