Loneliness & Wisdom
By Margaret Wachholz.
Mid-life: why do we call mid 50’s mid-life as it assumes we’ll live to +110? And, furthermore, if we could live to be 300, would we come any closer to a selfless nature? But as life expectancy stretches forward and perhaps the human condition remains the same; by mid-life, we have enough of an autobiography on self to at least have the capability, if not the inclination, to know if we are experiencing an authentic well-lived life. Yet most of us, including myself, are far too busy to lead a slow-paced contemplative life of self-examination. And we proclaim that this is just the way life is. As Einstein proclaimed about space and time, it is relative to speed; and perhaps 2 cars, a home, a cabin, a boat, 2 snowmobiles and a 3,500 sq ft home is life at 90% the speed of life [not that we possess all those things in that order].
Family hierarchies, social media, online gaming, friends, business, possessions… all of this may often take us away from any profound understanding of our existence, but instead seduce us into a minimalized sense of our limitations.
Emotions of being connected track anxiously as we check our phone 150 times each day for very little…and are we really feeling connected to what is real? It can be a very lonely time when we realize the human condition hasn’t exponentially changed like technology. Yet, during mid-life or mid-career episodic stagnation, for many, if we don’t DO something different and explore the age-old question, “why am I here?” our bodies will force us to make a change and consider. Death, the immovable prompter.
Loneliness is said to affect 75% of Americans. Loneliness is as harmful to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to Cigna an S&P 500 American worldwide health services organization.
Rolling with life’s punches
Recently I had a long listen to a resident, Marcus, at the senior living campus I work at, and reflected on his words as he squinted through the translucent veil of loneliness, “Mastering loneliness is developing a better understanding of others & of oneself.” Marcus explained how he came out of loneliness only after seeing the coin’s other side; wisdom. Wisdom… the profound understanding of our existence, the human situation, our possibilities, and especially our limitations. After growing a family in Woodbury, he lost his beloved wife 4 years ago. He had to be resilient & roll with life’s punches; learn from mistakes & develop empathy for others, instead of narcissism.
Marcus discussed the stages of life he experienced…In the 20’s when you worried about jobs, choosing a partner, where to live. It’s a stage where you compare yourself with others. In the 50’s experiencing physical disability or illness, arthritis or back pain. Beginning to become aware of mortality. 80’s, the awareness of illness & mortality become pervasive. For many, serious emotionally / physical pain is a daily confrontation at this stage. Some do not have families nearby [or at all] and many friends have died. So, it is, potentially, a time of considerable depression, stress & loneliness. And if one has not prepared their psyche for such a moment; how can any mind contend with such dire contrasts?
Marcus died unexpectedly two days after I spoke to him. He defined wisdom as having an intentional yearning to place your bets on furthering your noble capacities vs. being content with leaving them only half-formed like when you watch a heroic movie and say, “why is that not me?” He talked about having fortitude in the face of self-doubt and seeing faith as much closer to an acceptance of much uncertainty, wonder, and limitations in one’s ability to ever fully ‘arrive.’
Selflessness & self-reflection
Wisdom is having the power to let go of control while having an intentional yearning toward selflessness & self-reflection. If we are like so many who demand certainty; could we instead struggle with the paradox of holding on loosely, while staying passionate? Believe that we are right, but be willing to wonder if we are wrong? Seek happiness in life, while asking if not a deeper happiness can be found in the eyes of another lone and even more desperate voyager such as we?
Margaret Wachholz is the campus marketing director at Woodbury Senior Living.
Photography courtesy of the Woodbury Magazine.