This post might be a bit long, because I realized as I processed this a bit this week, that loneliness has been my traveling companion for quite a few years. It hasn’t always been the same, but it has been there. And I think it is that loneliness that inspires me to help people find their village. Because I long so much for one of my own. I’ve found it sometimes. And that knowledge of what it is like makes me long for it all the time.
Several years ago I lived in a large fairly new house with a very large back yard. My kids were about 9, 4 and 3. I was attempting to homeschool my oldest while also keeping two very active little boys occupied. I was feeding my family, hoping for a clean house, and also running a business. My days were full, but the people I interacted with all day long were my children. It took me awhile to realize that I was lonely. That what I was longing for was a community of people to live life with. People that weren’t all children begging me to meet their never ending needs all day long. I longed to do housework alongside someone else. I wanted to have adult conversations that went beyond the niceties. I wished for friends who would come into my messy life and be a part of it.
I wasn’t without friends, but it was becoming very clear to me that the American culture did not easily make room for deep and meaningful relationships. People just didn’t have time to step out of their own lives and into other people’s very often. Once I realized what I was longing for, I was able to see that it was something worth longing for. I believe people do live more fulfilled and contented lives when they have people that they are sharing them with.
During most of my mothering career I did participate in a mother’s group that helped to meet that need. There was one year that my small group within that group became to me a community unlike any I had ever known. It only happened once in that perfect “I can’t believe these people are all my friends” sort of way, but those friends I made then were a big part of my life. They were my village.
Shortly after that time, John and I moved out into the country, into an old farmhouse that someone was willing to rent to us. We were surrounded by land, which we loved. We started pursuing some of the things I had always longed to do. John built me a chicken coop and I mail ordered a box of fuzzy little chicks. We bought two perfectly adorable miniature goats and John and I worked together to fence in a portion of the field for them. I loved that house. I loved the things we were dreaming about. But it was even more lonely. It took nearly half an hour to get into town, so I didn’t go that often, saving my trips to consolidate my time.
But it was also in that house that for possibly the first time in my life I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking with my husband. It was during that time of our life that we started looking at the possibility of real adventures. We talked about mission work, and we started looking at possibilities, and then chose Germany as our desired destination. Life was purposeful and exciting and we were working together to make our dreams reality. My husband and I were making our own little village of sorts.
We moved back into town into a little tiny rental because we needed to be closer to meet with people and raise financial support. My contribution to our support raising endeavors felt very real and appreciated. We met with people several times a week and shared deep conversations. We realized how sad it was that it wasn’t until we were leaving that we actually had our first real conversations with friends that we’d had for years. It was a hard, weird, and exciting time. But it wasn’t particularly lonely.
Eventually the long awaited day of our flight came. We finished up packing all the possessions we hadn’t sold into our bags and headed across the ocean. I think I expected Germany to be lonely. I was 20 weeks pregnant, and not assigned to any specific job in the mission. I was leaving behind friends that I’d had for years. I was leaving behind a church I’d attended since I was a kid. There were definitely lonely times, but they were often interrupted by the unexpected kindness of a community that welcomed us with open arms. Like when I got the flu shortly after arriving and someone brought me soup and muffins and someone else took my son to and from kindergarten. And when I was in the hospital wishing my mom and family were there to help welcome our newborn son and we were visited by new friends who showed they truly cared.
And a few months into our stay I found a group of friends who are still the people that I tell everything to. A group of moms who all found themselves in very similar circumstances and all clung together sharing life and real deep conversations. I had found my village again and I was happy. We moved away from Germany a short while later as did many in that group then and in subsequent years. We find ourselves all over the place now, but we are still an online village. It isn’t the same, but it is something that I am thankful I have.
Ironically, my husband was entering a very lonely period in his life. He hadn’t realized how much he would miss the friends he’d made in recent years. How much he’d miss the interactions and their supportive conversations. He and I were growing even closer as I learned to be more honest and open with him, and as we learned to rely on each other for the community we needed. But I did not realize at the time the depth of the depression he had entered, the hopelessness he often felt, the weight of the questions he was asking.
When we came back to Arkansas I entered a period of loneliness that I wasn’t quite prepared for. I was returning to a place that was supposed to be home to me. I had friends and family there. But it wasn’t like everyone had left a Miriam sized hole waiting for me to step back into it. I felt like I had to force my way back into relationships. I know it wasn’t that people were purposefully leaving me out, but it didn’t feel as effortless as I had hoped. I was a different person who was starting to believe very differently than I had before, and it was hard to find where I fit into people’s lives. I was also very wary, waiting to see how each person would react to the new things I was learning and changing my mind on. Even if they accepted me and respected me in the midst of disagreement, it was hard to acknowledge that the majority of my friends did disagree with me. My therapist told me when I talked to her about my loneliness that self-discovery really is a very lonely process and that only when I was more sure of who I was would I be able to step into relationships in that real way again. It helped to know that some of that loneliness was to be expected, but it was still hard.
There were hurts during that time as well. Because of my changing perspective on LGBTQ issues, I was asked to step down from leadership in the mothering group that had been so life-giving to me before. And that still hurts. Even now, I get tears in my eyes thinking about it. A group of women I respected, who had respected and valued me, now looked at me differently. A church I had grown up in and felt at home with had rejected me. I felt that I was suddenly not trusted, not respected, and not valued. Some of the women in that group have made it clear to me since then that they do not feel that way, but my emotional reaction to what happened made it very hard to find community where I once had.
My family, thankfully, welcomed me back easily, but my relationship with them was a bit more distant as I allowed myself to question all the assumptions I was raised with and found myself moving down a different faith path than the one they were on. Self-discovery meant recognizing that I am not my family and they are not me and learning to be ok with that.
We also left the church we had known since childhood, which was understandably very hard. I realized very quickly how much of my socialization happened in church. We were attending a church I loved. In fact more than ever I loved being at church for the service, but I felt a bit like a stranger in the midst of these people who were so new to me. Despite being an extrovert, I have learned that I do not start conversations easily. Start a conversation with me and with very little encouragement I will reveal my deepest soul secrets, but expect me to initiate and you will hear very little from me. Plus, I feel like mothering littles on a Sunday morning greatly restricts your ability to interact with adults. And so I felt that my relationship building was very slow. It was happening, but it was also happening in what we knew was probably a short term stay in Arkansas, which meant always questioning whether friendship was worth pursuing for such a short time.
I did have a little village there though. There was a small group we met with weekly for a time. People who were also looking for friends to truly live with. And my husband and I entered what I consider the best part of our married life thus far. We were closer, more honest, open and vulnerable with each, than we ever had been. And as a result we truly enjoyed each other’s company. We still dreamt, though the dreams were all over the place, so the plans were fuzzy and incomplete.
Eventually, we left Arkansas to go to Virginia. I was supportive of my husband’s desire to pursue an MDiv and possibly ordination. I believed in him and so supported our move even in the midst of uncertainty of how I fit into all of it. I didn’t want to lose myself after having finally found it. Ironically what met us here in Virginia was a life seemingly all set up and ready for me and the kids, and disappointment, disillusionment, and depression for my husband. We had moved for him and everyone was thriving except for him. I had no idea what we were supposed to do now.
About halfway through our first year here he received a diagnosis of major depression, and suddenly a lot of the last few years made a lot more sense to me. The diagnosis was good because now we can focus on treatment. But it was hard too, because ever since that moment I think I have struggled to see my husband as something separate from the depression. Every conversation, every interaction seems to be tainted by it. The happy, unbelievable, and unexpected almost honeymoon period of the year before has been replaced by a constant internal swing in me between deep raw emotion and terrible numbness. I’ve learned to live in the present. I’ve learned to be strong. But I am sometimes very sad, and my loneliness right now not only has to do with the fact that I have very little energy to put into finding a village here, but also because I feel like I’m living a life parallel to my husband, but not WITH. Loving work, hobbies, children, life while my husband just survives beside me. It is the oddest juxtaposition I’ve ever experienced. To be so joyful in my daily life, while simultaneously feeling deep sadness at the fact that my husband is not able to share in that joy. He supports me in it, but he doesn’t feel it for himself.
And so loneliness is becoming a close friend these days. I do still believe that a village can be found everywhere, no matter what the circumstances. But sometimes it does take finding, and I’m not always sure I have the energy to pursue it. I sometimes wish it would just find me.