Can you be lonely without feeling lonely?

This was my question several times this week when people I had not since early March came into the hospital briefly to pick up something from their offices or to check their mail.

I was so excited to see them, as they were to see me. Our short conversations were the highlight of my day, to the point where I began to wonder whether I was lonely and didn’t realize it.

Many years ago, when I read Robinson Crusoe, I imagined what it would be like for me to be shipwrecked on an island. Being lonely was never a worry. My fears were always related to personal safety. I would have been certain that wild animals would have stalked and killed me. I know that I would have been terrified to have seen Friday the first time I read about the encounter. I think it would have taken me days to have been comfortable enough to find food if it had not been readily available. Any of the times when I have thought about experiences of being alone, even in dangerous situations like Crusoe’s island, it has always been fear of danger and not loneliness that worried me.

Because I have not felt particularly lonely through the last nine weeks, it is curious to me how wonderful it has been to spend a part of an hour with these colleagues who have come into work briefly. I have realized that the feeling is like that of seeing a good friend for the first time in many weeks.

Now we see colleagues for work, but we see them for the hours of our meetings over a computer screen without any time to catch up. There are no opportunities to consider casually one or another thing that might be happening. There are no celebrations for retirements or the days we typically celebrate at work. Nurses Week has just passed and there was no special opportunity to gather for coffee or catch up.

While I have not felt the melancholy of loneliness for the past 60 days, I realize that I have missed the happiness of the small encounters with the coworkers who are working from home. Even though I have connections with those who, like me, are working, finding someone friendly in an empty corridor is like finding water on the desert island.

(This is an Image of Devon Island, in Canada, the world’s largest uninhabited island. Photo credit.)

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