A month ago I wrote this: “Anyone who says we must remain in our homes until the virus is no longer a threat is ignoring both the nature of a virus as well as human nature.” It is unwise to ignore human nature. From the beginning our Creator created us for each other: “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him’” (Genesis 2:18).
Over the last few months many people have spent a great deal of time alone. This has prompted renewed interest in studying the many ways loneliness can impact physical and mental health, however studying loneliness and the toll it takes has long been of interest to a range of people including NASA researchers, filmmakers, and novelists.
NASA has studied the challenges of isolation in space. The 2000 film Cast Away invites viewers to experience the loneliness of being stranded on an island as Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) navigates both the physical and mental challenges of staying alive and sane without the benefits of civilization or companionship. The 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary features an iconic scene during which a despondent Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) sings Celine Dion’s All By Myself using a bottle of liquor she has emptied as a microphone during her performance.
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is, among other things, an exploration of loneliness. In a series of events that parallel the creation account in Genesis, the creature Dr. Frankenstein creates begs Victor Frankenstein to create a companion for him:
If I have no ties and no affections, hatred and vice must be my portion; the love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes, and I shall become a thing of whose existence everyone will be ignorant. My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor, and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being and become linked to the chain of existence and events from which I am now excluded.
Having worked with young people for many years, having read their writing and listened to their fears and their concerns, the above words of Frankenstein’s monster cross my mind often. According to research, “Generation Z adults 18-22 years old are supposedly the loneliest generation, outpacing Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, despite being more connected than ever.” This in no way surprises me. Despite a phone that constantly and instantly connects them to other people many young people feel desperately alone. Their social connections might be numerous but few of them are deep and meaningful. They can fire off a text rapidly but avoid face-to-face conversations like the plague. Their parents might not be physically absent (though some certainly are) but emotionally the distance between parent and child feels like a chasm to the child.
When I see people destroying the property of others, committing arson, lashing out at anyone and anything in a fit of rage, I think of the above words of Frankenstein’s monster: “If I have no ties and no affections, hatred and vice must be my portion . . . ”
Is true companionship the answer to all the world’s problems? No, certainly it is not, but I do believe in addition to other factors we have a loneliness epidemic gripping our nation, a rash of people who do not feel, “linked to the chain of existence and events.” I am certain some of the societal fissures we are witnessing are the result of successive generations of young people who are constantly surrounded by throngs of people, constantly exchanging electronic messages, yet feel desperately alone, rudderless, and purposeless.
Frankenstein’s monster pleads for communion with an equal. One genuine, meaningful relationship can change a person’s life. The toll of loneliness, be it physical or emotional loneliness or both, can be crippling. I constantly remind myself that while I cannot change the world in the span of a school year I can potentially change the trajectory of one life. If you are in a position to reach out to someone who is lonely, be it a young person who is emotionally isolated or an elderly person who is physically isolated, take the time to do so.
God created us for Him and for each other. Serve Him by serving others.