For some years now I have operated under the suspicion that people are lonely most of the time. I may be incorrect, and it would be a pleasant surprise to find the opposite is true. But I tend to hold my supposed rightness about things pretty close, so in any case it will take some convincing. When I sift through the moments in my life where I felt most supported, connected, known or loved by others, or when I participated in such nearness with someone else so they might feel such love, and when I realize the vast number of those moments despite their paradoxical inability to be usefully quantified, it’s unclear to me whether God is nourishing my belief that loneliness is dangerously prevalent and togetherness its cure, or whether He has been thwarting my understanding of reality from the start—or my start, anyway.
This past Monday evening He was at it again, either deepening my perception or proving me wrong. If you tuned into my recap of our last Supper & Songs, you may remember it felt like a victory more because the house didn’t collapse and the pasta cooked in time than for any reason related to intimate interactions or mountaintop experiences. We did it, and that was the first rung of the ladder we needed to know we could reach—having done that, this Supper & Songs was a success more because we already knew we could “do it,” and were able to focus with more purpose on our part in the event: extending our songs to one another and to the audience gathered there, and doing it whole-heartedly.
Isolation has little power over me at times like these—when beloved characters in my world have opened their home to strangers and friends alike, and their home feels like my home. When one community mingles with another over a meal, and I am reminded what it will be like never to miss anyone or feel the absence of a friend again, when division is a forgotten concept.
Then I notice one person sitting alone for a time before some other guests wander over and eat with him, and I wonder if he feels welcome and wanted or if the sensation of being on the outside has taken a toll that can’t be remedied. And there’s one gentleman who doesn’t appear necessarily comfortable when our host prays over the meal, and I see played out in my imagination how healing or how alienating this night might end up being for him. And there’s a young woman who came to the show by herself, and for a heart-stopping second I am perhaps more nervous than she is that she will continue feeling she is by herself. This home and the people I know who are crowding it have made me feel so safe and so cherished countless times before that the thought of someone not feeling they have a place at this table makes me almost too antsy to eat with everyone. And again, I feel the loneliness is everywhere, and we are starved for relief from it.
Of course I had no real way of identifying whether anyone felt this way without asking outright, and as the night wore on it became clear that people felt comfortable, a part of something, invited into it. It became clear as they fawned over watermelon and feta salad without reservation, exchanged stories of where they were from and where they were headed, and sang along with songs we taught them. Long before the music ended it was apparent we had succeeded in more than cooking pasta this time around—people were together. We were not alone, even if some of us felt certain we were before the ice cream sandwiches were passed out and the music began.
For me, Supper & Songs flies in the face of succumbing to loneliness, which can persuade us that our need for care and closeness with another person or group is too abysmal to be met, so we may as well quarantine ourselves and be spared the ache of unfulfilled hopes. I was reminded on Monday that, whether people feel generally alone or not, coming together is a must. It fights off separation, both manufactured and natural. It celebrates love and spreads life. In feeling connected to others myself last Monday, I stopped my anxious watchfulness and slipped into just being myself, free to be free. We were never meant to be alone, and it’s good (to say the least) to be involved in work that restores that truth to me. I am hopeful that it continues restoring that truth to everyone who comes through the door next time as well.
Equal parts children's fiction writer, musical theatre expert, and emo pop-punk music aficionado, Janie Townsend can always be found among good stories. Along with her unmistakable voice, she contributes a haunting yet playful narrative tone to The Orchardist's music in the form of meticulous vocal arrangements.