What color is loneliness?

Loneliness is a modern epidemic

Standing in line at a grocery store, I overheard a customer tell the clerk ringing through her order, “I never use the self-service option because I live alone.” That simple statement carried the freight of her isolation. Like her and almost every other human on the planet, I’ve been lonely.

Loneliness isn’t Black, White, Italian, Gay, Gendered, Professional, Blue Collar, or National. Anyone, anytime, anywhere can feel overcome with their aloneness.

In this context I watched the movie Green Book and then read the critics’ reviews. Okay, I understand the critique that Green Book is a clichéd rehash of racial tropes. However, the theme that touched me was its portrayal of people feeling lonely together.

Lonely is an early emotion

Loneliness must be foundational to us. It’s mentioned in the second chapter of the thousands-years-old Bible, Genesis 2:18, God allegedly said: It is not good that the man should be alone. As Earth’s first recorded protagonist, Gilgamesh lamented the loss of his friend, Enkidu.

Yet, acknowledging loneliness isn’t polite even if it’s ancient to humans and authentic to oneself. The standard greeting: hi, how are you? elicits the standard response: lonely, thanks.

Not. And if someone did say that to me, how would I respond?

Of the species’ and individuals’ many conflicts, how many might de-escalate if we reach out to connect? Attempting a connection is especially difficult if we feel wronged. It’s tempting for the aggrieved person to carry the hurt and wait for an apology. Don Shirley, protagonist in Green Book, showed courage as the wronged party who ventured where it was painful and risky.

Green Book captured loneliness in a crowd

One scene showed an exchange between wife and husband. She turned to him to ask for a letter, implying her longing for romantic love. He replied that what he wanted from her was dinner. I’ve been lonely with people who don’t “get” me, and Green Book depicted it. Have you experienced your longings not dovetailing with someone you care about? How did you feel?

Green Book’s critics scoffed at the happy family dinner in the last scene as redemption of the White guy who learned and rescued the Black guy from his loneliness. I read it differently. An older Italian couple also showed up for dinner because otherwise they would’ve been alone. The characters who had been lonely in different ways, reached out to each other, which transcends color.

Loneliness is a system that spirals downward

The Loneliness Epidemic is contagious, incendiary and destructive. Consider the routine dealings with machines instead of people– groceries, fuel, finances, airline check-in, and online purchasing. It saves the company money and dehumanizes interactions that once were face-to-face, carrying the freight of our isolation.

Days after I first published this post, The Globe and Mail featured a story that social isolation is also created when people purchase groceries online.

Green Book shows the dehumanizing systems of racial segregation.
Green Book shows the isolating systems of human segregation.

What color is loneliness? How do we integrate that color into the human family? What courage, what risks, and what rewards await us if we try.

Where is every­body? by Julie Van Rosendaal, The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition), Feb 02, 2019


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