Love and Isolation

By Michael Temple

Photo by Dreamstime

“Please don’t laugh at me. I get lots of junk mail, and when I’m alone at home I sit and tear that junk mail into strips, tear those strips into little pieces, put them in a bag, and throw them out in the garbage just for something to do. If I didn’t have something to do, I would go nuts.” The words of the 98-year-old woman burrowed down into my heart and caused a dull ache to reside there for quite some time.
 
I recently viewed a 10-minute exposé on the effects of isolation. The ray of hope that can brighten an older person’s day by simply going to a senior center and spending time with their peers was palpably expressed. It was eye-opening for me to witness this elderly woman (almost a century old) bearing her soul about the loneliness that she frequently experiences.
 
On weekdays, Mary (the subject of the video clip) boards a small bus and rides to a place where others like her assemble to play games, talk, dance, and enjoy human interaction. The senior center where she participates in these activities has become an oasis in the desert of living alone. When she spends time with her peers, Mary comes alive. On the weekends when she is unable to make the trip (because the center is closed), she whiles away the hours by tearing up junk mail into tiny pieces.
 
As I watched this little lady shyly explaining her lonely plight, I was cut to the heart. While I was busying myself on Facebook with conversations about politics, someone just like Mary was feeling the pangs of a solitary existence. While I was arguing about losing my freedoms as an American citizen, some elderly American somewhere was already feeling the lonely effects of losing their ability to be independent, to drive a vehicle, and to enjoy the company of another human being.
 
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV).
 
I can no longer allow myself to be defined by my politics, by the variety of viewpoints that I attempt to help others see, nor by the “next big thing” that shows up on the daily news feed. With God’s help I must be defined by the way I love others.