Data from an empirical study conducted by the Faculty of Welfare at the University of Malta identifies the different approaches used to define loneliness.
The Maltese translation for loneliness is lonely, equivalent of the English word solitude. Although there can be no qualms about the synonymy of these two words, loneliness can appear in a different context and thus express a different meaning of a mental framework.
Wordsworth finds happiness in solitude because it sensitizes him to that “inner eye” that inspires him to reflect on the beauty of nature. Seen from such a perspective, the loneliness experienced by Wordsworth, rather than an irremediable pathological state of mind, may also be a deliberate act of distancing from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Such acts of meditation and reflection have the potential to elevate one’s spirituality.
Loneliness is hardly ever perceived and experienced in such blissful sentiment and rarely, if ever, expressed in Wordsworth’s idyllic poetic language. One of the prototypes of the lonely people in the Beatles song All the Lonely People is Eleonor Rigby who “lives in a dream” as she “waits at the window”.
The other person with this trait of loneliness is Father McKensie who, alone at night, is engaged in two thankless tasks: preparing a sermon that no one will hear and mending his socks.
Loneliness, rather than being a deliberate act, becomes a circular form of painful inner feeling that engulfs the psyche. I think this type of loneliness, typically experienced by Eleanor Rigby and Father McKensie, is a common occurrence among older people.
Of course, this does not necessarily mean that the younger generation, unlike that of the elderly, is isolated from this type of loneliness. No one, young or old, is immune to the pangs of loneliness.
When this loneliness becomes a one-day experience and there seems to be no way out, it can be the cause of deep social and psychological pain that eats away at the best part of the personality.
Elderly people everywhere can easily fall prey to this sense of devastation. Old age is an onslaught wrapped in a dark web of unanswered questions that offer little or no room to escape.
What exacerbates this gloom is the persistent belief, especially among the elderly, that society is in the grip of a spiritual void that causes a terrifying sense of irremediable desolation. At the deepest level, this emptiness becomes a terror, a fear of abandonment by any spiritual support.
Social media interaction has not sparked the widespread friendship in traditional village life– Savior Rizzo
The craze for the modern set of gadgets could have given new impetus to social interaction. But, so far, it has failed to solidify the values and norms related to the sense of commitment and solidarity among members of society.
Interaction on social media has yet to elicit the friendship and camaraderie that recalls or is widely considered to have prevailed in social interaction within the community of traditional village life.
As nostalgic or romantic as this reasoning may sound, it is when one feels the pain of loneliness that friendship and human interaction are given the highest value they deserve.
There is no going back to help ease the pains of this seemingly higher degree of loneliness that is prevalent in modern society. The escape route can be that kind of reflective thinking that calms judgment.
Old age can be, or perhaps often is, conducive to such a reflective mode of thinking. Perhaps by engaging in such reflective thought, solitude can be transformed into that typical meditative solitude in which Wordsworth, on his hikes in the Lake District, found inspiration for the themes of his poems.
This does not mean, of course, that we should try to write poems in order to help us overcome the pangs of loneliness. What we can do is sharpen the thoughts that are triggered during loneliness, and in doing so, try to rid ourselves of some of our delusions and feelings of emptiness that tend to exacerbate feelings of loneliness.
During this type of reflection, sitting on a bench in the village square watching life go by can help us to detach ourselves from the tumult of life. In doing so, we tend to become very aware of illusions that constantly make us realize that what we perceive does not correspond to the real state of the world.
Friendship can be helpful in our struggle to overcome these illusions. Reality, however, may reveal that being part of a congregation or joining a crowd does not always save us from the pain and pangs of loneliness and marginalization. You can feel alone even in a crowd.
Savior Rizzo is a former director of the Center for Social Studies at the University of Malta.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.