Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Loneliness of the urban citizen

We may be surrounded by millions of people, but loneliness still haunts us every step of the way.

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don't give up, until you
Drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

To the uninitiated, that's the first verse of America's Lonely People, and the only reason I quote it is because, of late, I've been wondering what becomes of all the denizens of the urban sprawl who lie wrapped in a cocoon of loneliness.

Orson Welles, that great fatalist, once said of loneliness: "We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

Somber stuff from the great auteur, but does he have a point? Loneliness is a strange bedfellow: It's always by your side, no matter how hard you try to step out of its shadow.

We tend to believe that surrounding ourselves with friends and family gives us a decent shot at beating this miserable companion. There are, however, far too many examples of the lonely soul hemmed in by a crowd to believe that the 'all my people, right here, right now' theory works.

Loneliness, some say, is a disease that creeps up on you, when you're at your most vulnerable. Its portal is a human's inherent need to be wanted; to be loved; and above all to touch. In a metropolis, time is at a premium, and the rats scurry from goal to goal. Often, the end justifies the means, but the means, unfortunately, are not always in the best interest of the human rodent.

When you sit back, after a hard day at work, kick off your shoes, pour yourself a drink and turn on the stereo…that's when the sledgehammer hits. It's true; loneliness is a creeper. It waits until your mind has absolved itself of all day-to-day responsibility and wound down.

First come the memories. They flutter in on butterfly wings, alighting softly on your shoulder. You rush into them, basking in the warmth of days gone by. Then comes the longing: Faces, tastes, smells and sounds assault you like Sirens calling you back into the past. Then comes the realisation that your present is not quite what you envisioned a few years ago.

Regret. Disillusionment. Cynicism. Bitterness. Loneliness is the assassin of the soul. Silent. Efficient. Ancient.

Very few people can go through life merely skirmishing with loneliness (although many might claim that that's all they've done…most are lying). Most wage battles with it on a Stalingrad scale. Your armoured division is delusion, your artillery hope. A smattering win. Masses lie defeated. Some capitulate, but prefer suicide to imprisonment.

The wickedest aspect of life is that it never releases its report card until you're taking your last dozen or so breaths, and by then there's nothing much you can do to bump that C up to an A.

In the end, there's no real solution to loneliness. All that matters is how much firepower you can muster for the big battles, and whether you're willing to fight to the bitter end, or end it all in a flurry of honour.

In one of his most underrated songs, Like Everyone She Knows, James Taylor gave some sound advice to warriors:
Hold tight, to your hearts desires,
Never ever let them go
Let nobody fool you into givin' it up too soon,
Tend your own fires,
Lay low and be strong
Wait a while, wait it on out,
It'll come along

In my time here, I have met a few lonely souls, and some of them warm my mind on a dark tired night. I hope that they're not lonely anymore. That their battle was won. And if defeated they looked to the past for strength, rather than a reason to give up on the future.

By Dean Williams

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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