The “holiday” season, which now surrounds us, is played out on TV and media as a time of family gatherings, greeting, communal celebration and joyous connection. The media and the stores thrive on this perception and do their best to hype it. It is, however, important to remember that not everyone conforms to this Hallmark Card image of family, friends and community. Sadly, there are still many within our world, our community, our congregations, for whom this season of the year represents a challenge unlike any other. They are alone.
No matter the circumstance that made this a reality, how many of our friends get lost at this time of year? We may be so caught up with our own family issues and plans, that we forget about the people who have no family or even friends network to support and surround them. This “l’vado” factor I call it. That is the Hebrew word that is from Torah that describes the sense of being alone, singular, cut off. This is not only a physical concern, but is especially a psychological concern. Yalom called this a sort of “existential” aloneness that can be devastating.
There was a recent study reported in a N.Y.Times column (“So Lonely It Hurts” by Gretchen Reynolds) which discussed a study done at the University of Chicago. The study began with “a group of healthy young volunteers who completed a loneliness questionnaire: 32 were categorized as socially well integrated and 38 as lonely, perceiving themselves as lacking intimate connections with another person.” Sensors measured brain activity as various words were flashed. No surprise that the people identified as lonely reacted very differently when certain words were flashed; “The results show that the lonelier you are, the more your attention is drawn toward negative social information”.
This issue is important for Boomers. Many of us are caring for someone, a parent or spouse, who may be in a facility and will spend significant time during this season alone. Many people we know may themselves be alone through circumstances as divorce, death, or never married. This season challenges us to not forget that isolation can be a pathway to self destructive behaviors. We are a people that thrives in community. We need community to “be”! SO, do not forget the people who may be outside of our immediate experience. As the Torah says, it is not good for anyone to be alone.
Rabbi Richard F Address