On Isolation and Consolation

As we all know, in these days of quarantine, loneliness and isolation are prevalent.

Zoom is as depleting as it is efficient. Social distance may be wearing on us, our own particular responses to stress may be in full action.

One thing that stuck with me this week, however, was how isolated and alone we often feel under normal circumstances, sometimes even when we are surrounded by people.

A time like this in which we are at a physical distance from one another might be a good time to be reminded that the spiritual distance is often created in our minds.

The truth is that how we present ourselves a good deal of the time, and what we often imagine about others, is never the entire story.

In our isolation, let us take this as a consolation.

Every time we go on to a class, or on a zoom call, or any remote forum wherein we interact with others, let us try to take it as a lesson in connection. We differ so vastly in privilege and background and age and culture, yet our desire to see and be seen, to accept and be accepted, are shared phenomena that transcend these differences.

As we finish up this strange and hard and sometimes heartbreaking but deeply rich semester, let us choose to be consoled by our connection rather than isolated by our distance, and we will be the better for it.

April in New England continues to bring blooms and blossoms, and we continue to trust in what is emerging through this hardship, just as new life comes through the winds and rain of this long spring.

... your eyes fix on the empty distance

That can open on either side
Of the surest line
To make all that is
Familiar and near
Seem suddenly foreign,
When the music of talk
Breaks apart into noise
And you hear your heart louden
While the voices around you
Slow down to leaden echoes
Turning silence
Into something stony and cold,
When the old ghosts come back
To feed on everywhere you felt sure,
Do not strengthen their hunger
By choosing fear;
Rather, decide to call on your heart
That it may grow clear and free
To welcome home your emptiness
That it may cleanse you
Like the clearest air
You could ever breathe.
Allow your loneliness time
To dissolve the shell of dross
That had closed around you;
Choose in this severe silence
To hear the one true voice
Your rushed life fears;
Cradle yourself like a child
Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you
The glimmer of springtime

-On Loneliness, by John O’Donohue

(Matilda Cantwell, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and College Chaplain wrote this article.)

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