Mariah Proctor is a senior at BYU.
Loneliness is strange thing. Have a life full of good friends and social successes, a life full of love notes and “you’re my favorite”s,--- it doesn’t matter; all the kind words and shared laughter in the world cannot render you permanently immune to loneliness. It comes in a wave, a terrible, exquisite, swallowing force that manages to engulf your whole being. One night you’re the center of attention and well-loved by a room full of people and the next, your phone’s silence is deafening and you see yourself as the deliberately ousted pariah to everyone else’s delightsome and perfect revelry.
There were a lot of weekends last semester that felt like that. I lived 40 minutes from campus and therefore 40 minutes from the action. Since my social life tends to be generally made up of texts that say “get over here right now” or “we’re driving to Salt Lake right now, should we swing by and pick you up?” The 40-minute delay to any spontaneous ideas for activity made it hard to participate. There was one weekend in particular that was pretty rough and no one was getting back to me and everyone else in my house had things to be doing, but me. When I got to school that Monday the first three people I talked to about their weekends said that they’d done a whole lot of nothing and regretted the wasted time.
Everyone seemed to have a dramatic weekend tale of being lonely and waiting for the phone to ring. We had all sat in our separate homes assuming the rest of creation was having a party without us and said party had never come into being. I could turn this into an argument for how the world needs initiators. And it does. There was a week last year that I decided to be an initiator. Every time someone asked me to some social event, I would say ‘yes,’ no matter what it was. If I had an inclination to see someone, I had to pick up the phone and call that person right then. I ended up initiating myself right into a romantic relationship that week and it turned out to be one of the greatest dating experiences I’ve had.
It’s amazing how many people just want something to go to. I have a few friends that love music so they started having house shows where everyone would just get together and jam on guitars or electric keyboards or pop cans full of beans and just enjoy each other and the power of music. It started out being something that ten or fifteen people would show up to throughout the night and now I’d bet upwards of 80 show up. It isn’t just the music that brings them in; it’s the opportunity to rub shoulders with other people and remember that they’re not alone.
It isn’t my friends that initiate those house shows that have caught my attention just now, it’s that need---that essential, human need for company and companionship and a little understanding. Sometimes I feel disappointed in myself for ever feeling lonely. I have a family that is dear to me and I have never wanted for friends in my life. More than just having friends, I’ve thrived because of the people that have stumbled across my path. Thriving because of the influence and inspiration of the best people who I’ve been privileged to associate with, it feels ungrateful to ever be lonely.
And yet, I have been.
What is it about solitude that fills you with unfulfilled yearning? Better yet, what is it about the presence of people that combats that yearning so wholly and effectively? I was chatting with someone once. We each were headed to separate places, but stopped momentarily to talk. Drawn in different directions by our lives and obligations, but held together for one last lingering moment by the desire to just discuss for a moment. We talked of living in the present and how tantrums and breakdowns are always products of living in the past or future---it’s regretting something that didn’t go your way in the past or anxiety of something coming up.
He said that he’d noticed the friends that were elsewhere when he talked to them; the people that lived in what they hoped would be or what they used to have. I asked him if I was like that (just assuming the answer would be yes) and he answered that he always felt like I was present when I talked to him. It was unexpectedly flattering to hear. It made me realize that the reason I feel so whole and capable around other people is because it may be the only time I live 100% in the present. I can’t think about stupid things I’ve done or be afraid of things that could go wrong---I can’t think of myself at all---because I throw all of my emotional energy into the person that I’m talking to when it’s someone that I care about.
It’s funny that the times when I get totally lost in the present, make for the best memories once those moments become my past. Having other people to remind us to forget ourselves has got to be one of the greatest gifts God has given us. We can huddle together, each forgetting ourselves and remembering each other and so never be overlooked. Good to remember, however, that God didn’t give us each other to replace our need for him. And even on nights when no one calls and it seems you’re not the only one who forgot yourself---you’re never really alone.