Part II: The Poison of Lonliness
by C.S. Humble
Hell is other people.
– Jean-Paul Sartre
“What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.”
– T.S. Eliot
One of the challenges of living life at its top is that no matter how high the peak of joy, the anticipation of the great drop into the abysmal valley seems to cut a red line through whatever boon God above has delivered unto you. There is no kind word that doesn’t have a rejoinder of sorrow, no blessing that doesn’t seem to have a hidden cost. For it is true to say- no matter how brightly the sun may shine through the glory of the mid-day, the midnight is coming. And the midnight is always spent alone.
For me, the late hours -when the hands of the clock seem to turn most slowly – are spent here, in the solitude of a brightly lit screen accompanied by the soundtrack of each singular keystroke. This is the time when stories fill my head, the moments when dragons seem most real and there is no noble knight for me to call upon, or become, to slay the mighty monster; these twilight episodes where there is no St. George to slay the perilous foe.
These are the hours when the maw of darkness opens and devours me whole. The times when I eat most heartily from the fruit of the poison tree – when I imbibe the poison of loneliness.
As previously discussed in Part I of this series, Pride is the root of all my infirmities. Because I am a man firmly rooted in the soil of my own perseverance, I cannot endure the sinking devastation of personal inadequacy. And in truth, when I come to the end of my own abilities – when the powers of my own intellect and authorial stamina fail me- I’m left with nothing by which to keep myself upright. I, like many people I believe, think that because I am not enough for myself I cannot be enough for anyone else. And so begins the great cycle of destructive thought that I’ll never be good enough for anyone.
I’ll never be as steadfast as people need me to be.
I’ll never be enough, in any regard.
I’ll never be worthy of love.
Saint Paul, through Christ Jesus, teaches us that Love is a thing given, not earned, and that is a concept that I struggle with. My pride – no, my vanity – refuses to accept the notion that there is a benevolent force who has liberated me from the shackles my own infirmities. Because how can there be a love strong enough to shoulder all the falseness, all the anger, and all the weakness which exists inside the human heart?
How can their be a balm of righteous care that can sooth each and every stain that I, let alone all the world, has amassed over our sordid and bloody history?
How can there be a fountain by which all humanity can come and be cleansed?
I think I’m finally starting to realize the answer, and I want to share it with you. Here and now, in this fragile moment –
I think that the defeat of pride can only come through surrendering. I think that submission to love is the only vehicle by which we are able to accept the Messiah grace of Christ.
Pride is the strong man who, with closed fist and drinking heavily from the bottle of loneliness, stands firm in the face of being always outnumbered and outgunned and says, “I’ll be the last son-of-a-bitch standing.”
Submission is the man, who dearly wants to be strong, but in his sobriety sees his weakness, and thus bends to his weary knees and says, “I am the bastard victim of a thousand self-inflicted wounds, and I cannot bear to stand any longer.”
Loneliness is a poison, administered to the self by hopes that we are capable to do for ourselves by our own means.
But if we were capable creatures, unto ourselves, then why do we yearn for the shoulder of a friend when the tremendousness of life bears down on us with all it’s stark ferocity?
If the prideful man is so strong, then why does he look for the hands of others to help him rise when he has fallen?
And how can solitude be such a wonderful companion, when in our solitude all we desire is the gentle, comforting hand of hope to guide us out of the valley of bleached white bones we have buried ourselves in?
When we cloister ourselves away from community and the caring fellowship of others, we aren’t proving that we are strong. Rather, we prove that we are afraid. But we don’t fear loneliness. We fear vulnerability. We fear the knowledge that others will see us as we truly are – not firm, but brittle.
For the prideful man, such as I am and have admitted to being, the poison of loneliness is an easier drink than the elixir of life, which is fermented and aged in the submission to the strength of others. To realize that to love is commanded, but to be loved in return is divine.
And that is a divinity higher and greater than any mountain top one might attain by their own strength.
Learning to accept the love and care of others is to put away the drunkenness of self-reliance and find the moment true sobriety in this –
The care and affection of friends and lovers is the wellspring of life, from which flows the deathless power of God’s ceaseless and eternal love.
And so, what falls to us – to me – is the choice:
Do you drink of the familiar poison?
Or shall you imbibe from the cup of submission, wherein lies the fine wine which sustains the soul?
After that examination, love seems more potable now, more than ever.
I am lonely. In this way, confessed to you, I am infirm and lame.
But, I rejoice in this: “love covers a multitude of infirmities.”
Yours and mine.