‘This is a lonely time’ is a statement that rolls off the tongue easily at the Christmas of a corona-ravaged year.
We reach out by Zoom and see loved ones, yet we are more alone than we ever were since humankind’s early days. Not even village life or the office offer proximity. The plague, arguably, and cataclysmic wars did not bring physical distance in the way we experience it now. War encompassed the gravest horrors, camps, trenches, yet alone was not the problem.
What we forget at our peril is the difference between solitude and loneliness. You can be abjectly lonely in a crowd, and you can be alone and feel companionship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote movingly about a nearness to his fiancee and his loved ones although he was waiting for death alone in his cell during Nazism.
There is no denying that the face-to-face with the Other is essential for understanding the Other, and that most of our personal treasures are those that we have laughed about, cried about, lived through, together with other human beings. And evidently there is currently a hiatus on much of this joint experiencing. Yet, that does not mean that loneliness must be the result!
Now is a time for appreciating those already collected treasures of life with others; for feeling the nearness of the spirit of togetherness that is imprinted in our hearts. Ibsen said: eternally owned is but what’s lost. That sounds depressing but is not. We own forever that which has happened in our lives, and Kierkegaard was wrong when he suggested that the past is of no relevance. Our past is also our present and the nearness to others that you can and should feel even when they are not present is made possible by a shared past. So let this Yuletide be the time when you are near your loved ones, not only by technical means, but because your mind and feeling let you travel to them with an intensity that only heart can bring!