Last year I came across some simple words in a book, quoted from a story the author had read in another book. Pretty far removed from me, right? And yet these words shifted something in me.
The words are spoken to an awkward young girl at a party by a mysterious older man who sees her struggling with self-consciousness and a hunger for belonging: “Everybody’s lonely,” he tells her. And with that, the girl’s view of the world changes.
I came across this story in Joanna Macy’s memoir, Widening Circles. She makes these words into a mantra. In those moments where I am inwardly spiraling too deeply into myself, it’s become my mantra too.
When I was younger, awkward and pretending not to care, I often couldn’t see outside of myself. Rationally, yes; truly, no. The narcissism of youth. I would get trapped inwardly, unable to see the reality of other people’s lives. Always sure that they had something I was missing.
More recently, if I’m falling into self-doubt, sadness, jealously, fear, or confusion, instead of trapping myself inwardly, I’ve started pulling myself outward. Everybody’s lonely. Once I look out I can see it. The change in perspective is huge.
I’ve started looking for other people’s loneliness, cataloguing it to myself. I think of people I know – those I love easily, those I struggle with – and I tell myself their stories. Every one – even the most accomplished, the most eloquent, the most loved – is missing something that they want, isolated in some way, unsure about something deep inside themselves. It brings out a lot of tenderness in me to see it.
It’s fascinating, in a sense, this universal loneliness. And – dare I say – it’s beautiful, that we all have this in common, if only we can see outside ourselves?