Recently I sat in a ceremony as someone I know held his hand in the air and pledged himself to the army. What this meant, was that he, along with others, would move away for an extended period of time and train to become a soldier. Around me, family members were silently dabbing their eyes. I couldn’t tear my own away from two children who were inconsolable about the temporary loss of their older brother. I was constricted by grief for them. Maybe they didn’t fully understand why he was being torn away from their seemingly tight family unit. Or, maybe, I invented an image of their family life entirely. As I watched them, I swallowed a golf-ball sized lump in my throat.
Part of the life-course consists of people entering and exiting, like the endless coming and receding of a tide. More likely than not, we are not ready to let some of those people go. If we had it our human, needy way we would hold on until our hands were aching from our tight grip. We would hold our breath in hope until we found our way to keep these people and carry them with us throughout our lives. In my mind, this is what those brothers wanted. I still feel a pang of sadness for them.
I read once that loneliness is the greatest kind of poverty. The author explained that lack of human relationships is one of the hardest kinds of pain to deal with. He argued it was far worse than lacking a variety of materialistic objects. I have to agree with this author. Even the absence of a single person can cause loneliness. I think it’s one of the many reasons humans can’t stand to lose someone they love, even if they are surrounded by others and even if it is just temporary. Because in this persons absence, a small hole of loneliness develops. The more people disappear, the more the hole grows, feeding on loss and pulling us toward the idea we are alone. In the absence of these people it is possible for us to feel entirely isolated in a room bursting with people.
On the brighter side of life, loneliness can be overcome. All it takes is the acceptance of the pattern of life and a somewhat positive outlook. If I could talk to those young boys I would tell them that yes, it may at first be lonely without their brother. Yes, it will hurt at times. But just as life can take people away from you, it can bring them back. And I know, life will bring him back to them. Soon. I can only hope they know that too.