One day, Stewart Wolf, an American cardiologist, was talking to a friend about the rising rate of heart disease in America. His friend mentioned that there is no heart disease in Roseto. Wolf was amazed. How could this possibly be? He paid a visit to the newly established town and conducted some research. The statistics were staggering: No heart disease in Roseto!
Wolf investigated all the possible reasons behind this ‘strange’ phenomenon:
· These people secret did not lie in their diet (their obesity rate was like everywhere else in the States),
· It wasn’t exercise either (they weren’t doing anything extra),
· It wasn’t health habits (the % of those who smoked or drank alcohol was like anywhere else in America),
· And, it wasn’t genetics (he studied Rosetians who migrated to other places in the States),
So what was it? It was rather their bonds!!! The social structure Rosetians tightly preserved, the loving and caring society they built, and the spiritual beliefs they safeguarded literally protected their hearts and possibly protected all other aspects of their physical and emotional heath.
Well, it might seem strange to talk about human bonds and connections in this challenging time of physical distancing and social isolation. But, let’s face it. Human connection is an essential need… an integral part of being human. No one can deny that even the most introverted persons like myself. And, in this COVID era, loneliness is looming over our lives, over everyone’s life and it could be affecting not only our emotions but also our physical health.
I recently sat with a widow who lost her husband to COVID. They had been together for 60 years. They have no children and no relatives in Canada. She was grieving 60 years of love and connection… grieving that she could not give him a goodbye hug or throw him a proper funeral… grieving not having their friends around her for comfort and to share precious memories… A deep feeling of loneliness was surrounding her life… she described it as sinking into a deep dark cave.
Loneliness is radically different from solitude. Loneliness is not about being alone; it is rather about feeling helpless, powerless and lack of belonging. As human beings, we need to feel seen and heard.
Sharing her pains and deep sadness helped ease the widow’s loneliness. She is still grieving, yet she felt heard and seen. She lifted a burden off her heart and started to slowly climb out of her deep dark cave.
I believe that human bonding and connection have never been more important than they are now, in this new reality of the pandemic we are living, the new norm that is here to stay for God knows how long. The way out of loneliness or isolation is to love more deeply… A kind of love that encompasses every aspect of our life, of ourselves and of everyone around us.
In order for us to deal with loneliness, we need to be comfortable with ambiguity. We need to approach life with love and awe seeing the wisdom in every experience even the most tragic ones. We need to learn to relax expectations, to give greater weight on momentary joys, to experience life more deeply, and to balance healthy attachments with detachments and engagement with relinquishing.
We also need to engage in self-reflection, establish a friendship with ourselves and connect with our feelings on a much deeper level. And, as Henri Nouwen teaches, when we reach deeper into our hearts, we sit in deep reflection with our powerlessness and listen to “that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire.”
Our loneliness requires courage to keep going. It requires patience, flexibility, and trust. Our darkest moments help us slow down, reflect at, and absorb life lessons, challenges, and trials. It helps us find the perfect rhythm that synchronizes our heart with the delicate flow of life, with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
Despite the challenging times we are living, we are still meant to enjoy the ride with all its bumps and troughs… we are meant to find happiness amidst the rubbles… Happiness in honouring the struggle and staying curious about the endless possibilities it is bringing… Happiness is finding excitement on every corner and joy in every lesson… Happiness in learning and growing… in serving… happiness in connecting… even if we need to sometimes dig deeper into our lonely hearts to find those connections.