Sunday, January 28, 2007

Only The Lonely

How does it feel
To be on your own,
With no direction home?
Like a complete unknown,
Like a rolling stone?

-Bob Dylan

She walks her dog most days along the main roads, disheveled hair and bright red lipstick smeared across her face in a genuine but ill-fated attempt to brighten her lips. Her clothes are third or fourth hand, and the look on her face is a mixture of concentration and bewilderment.

She can be found almost anywhere on the island, going nowhere, coming from nowhere, but still moving forward. The polka dot dresses and sneakers can be spotted from a distance, but the solitary figure and her dog give are part of the community, rather than a discarded homeless statistic. Who knows her story? Does it matter?

Yesterday, she was alone, without the dog, and without any movement or purpose. She sat on the bus stop with her large red sun hat, staring the ground. No bus can take her where she is going, no friendly chats are forthcoming with The Lady in Red.

I am told by long time residents that 20 or 30 years ago, the marginal, the disenfranchised, the eccentric, and the artists (who sometimes were a combination of all of the above), flocked to Waiheke Island. Some perhaps had no choice, and were guests of the State, others saw an opportunity for the natural beauty, isolation, and mystique to inspire and invigorate. It set the tone, which still exists, slightly hidden amidst the recent invasion of Large Black SUVs, trophy homes, and vineyards as the trendy Playgrounds of the Wealthy.

Diversity is nothing if not enlightening. We often see others not as we see ourself, but as different. For some that is a challenge and opportunity, for others a threat. But we are in this together, no matter how high a wall we may try to put around us. No man is an island, as the saying goes.

With a number of countries surpassing a billion in population, and The Good Old US of A now at 300million, one would think that making and keeping connections with others would have become easier, not more difficult, especially with the growing number of devices and tech advances that make it easier for busy people to keep in touch. Apparently not so. Whether you call it social isolation or disconnectedness, for many people plain loneliness is a haunting presence lurking over their shoulder day and night. One in four Americans now live alone, compared to just 10% in 1950, according to this AP article. Everyone has their own way of coping, and some do not.

Contrast that with the many who have the good fortune to live long and fulfilling lives; taking their opportunities to appreciate every day, and to share their knowledge, wisdom, experience and creativity gained in the process. These are the real leaders for the new world.

A good example is this brilliantly witty essay from Joseph Epstein, reflecting on the changes in life upon reaching that most profound of decades, the 70s. Very well worth the read. And the Guardian's David Thompson recently had an overview of successful artists in their 70s, not the least of whom is Clint Eastwood, making the best films of his life.

Families are scattered all over the island on this holiday weekend, on their yachts, in the campgrounds, or crammed into the many baches sprinkled over the hills and coastline. Some are happy, some are not. Some are wealthy, some are not. They are together, with their friends and families and colleagues and sometimes complete strangers. We are tied together in this knot of complex, interwoven and changing relationships throughout our lives.

Whether we have a large circle of friends to call on, or a small one, it can be the lifeblood of our interaction in this world of increasing complexity and uncertainty. Our inner strength is a reservoir that can fluctuate with the seasons or the reasons. Certainly it needs replenishing with the support of close association with others, either in this world or in another...

While on families, one of the weddings I am attending this summer had a pre-Big Day picnic down by waters edge this weekend, many of the family and friends having traveled all the way Down Under from Europe for the occasion. They seem to be certainly enjoying the relaxed summer season and vibe here after leaving Northern Hemisphere temperatures not worth mentioning. We talked about the whanau, the fairies, and the New Zealand way of life, amongst good food, good company and frisbee.

Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes "AWWW!"

Jack Kerouac
On the Road

Many people come and go in my life. I am grateful for the practice and the experience each and every one has given me, even if it is buried all Freudian-like deep in my subconscious somewhere. Some stay that I want to go, others go that I want to stay, but the point is this(and there is a point): Our story is unique to us, and it can be refreshingly healthy to share the common threads with others close, knowing we are not alone in this most mysterious and marvelous of journeys. We may at times feel lonely, and that can actually be a very precious gift of solitude. The only constant we can be sure of in this world is change however, and it can come in an instant without any warning. So be prepared.

The Lady in Red will keep on walking in different directions until she stops. I will see her again tomorrow and be reminded once again of the temporal nature of this life. She may be lonely, but she is not alone.

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