There's been some talk about loneliness on this blog, particularly in connection with disability. And I was thinking about my own loneliness, and that of my son, as I drove to and from work this morning.
I am quite well acquainted with Loneliness, thank you, and I do not like Her. My loneliest interlude was during my first marriage. Five years of it. You see, I was passionate about certain things, and J-- was not. Nor was he a good pretend enthusiast about my special things. So, when we went to the opera (and yes, he does get credit for going) he mainly joked about getting a pair of glasses with fake eyes painted on the lenses, so he could sleep without any of those (evidently stupid) opera people noticing. He never actually listened to, or watched, or -- God forbid -- tried to appreciate, the musical/theatrical/visual spectacle unfolding before his eyes. Even when it was Mozart, whose operas are simply NOT SLEEP INDUCING.
Then there was the time I felt an urgent need to read him Oscar Wilde's story "The Selfish Giant." (Go read this IMMEDIATELY if you haven't already, and when you cry, tell yourself it's a completely reasonable thing to do. I will be there with you in spirit, happily sobbing.) I was reading away, all choked up, and picked up J-- in my peripheral vision. What he was doing did not inspire feelings of joy in me. He was glancing at his watch and stifling a sigh. He just did not get it.
Not connecting with your significant other makes you lonely. So can parenthood, even though by definition you, the parent, are now living in close proximity to at least one extra person. Now, I'm not a lonely mom any more. Lars and Saskia and Benjy fill me and complete me, in all kinds of lovely ways. For me, the loneliness came when I was a new mother. I had always lived a life of the mind, but the life of a new mother is emphatically a life of the body. I missed my intellectual life. At first I resisted this. When Saskia was one week old I read her The Tempest. Yep. The whole thing. My favorite part was when Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, tells his daughter, Miranda, how when she was a bitty baby they'd been cast away by Prospero's scheming brother, plunked on a ratty boat with no sails and launched out to sea.
Miranda says, Alack, what trouble
Was I then to you!
And Prospero replies, O, a cherubin
Thou wast that did preserve me. Thou didst smile,
Infused with a fortitude from heaven...
I lovedlovedloved this. I would recite it while gazing at the sweet face of my baby, my cherubin, and think: I'm lonely but I am fulfilled. My baby will preserve me. And in so many ways, she did.
When Benjy came along I thought my life was too hectic for loneliness, but I was wrong. The thing about Ben that was most isolating was his difference from the "standard" way of being. He missed every milestone. Was creeping when he should have been walking (he never bothered to crawl). Was jargoning when he should have been talking. Was flapping his hands in a way that made other moms stare. The distance between me and those other moms was a palpable thing. I did not like it. And I think I did not like them, either. A sympathetic smile would have gone a long way with me at that lonely period in my life. There weren't many of them -- we were just too weird. The way I see it now, ours was a new normal -- and the world wasn't ready for us.
I'm not lonely anymore because I've found a community, in person and online. I cherish that community. I hope Ben will someday find his own community, so maybe the ache of emptiness will go away. I wish that for him fiercely, and with a mother's love.