Pining Away

It’s a common story that’s happened in many times and places. Someone, doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, sits alone in their room, longing for someone to make them whole, someone who will rescue them from their loneliness and make their life worthwhile. It’s inspired poetry, painted canvases, provoked comedy and drama, and generated songs since the human race could tackle abstract concepts. One of the darkest such lonely character in theater is Judd from the musical Oklahoma! by Rogers and Hammerstein: he uses his despair as motivation for murder and domination. One of the most likable characters is Bobby, the lead from the musical Company by Stephen Sondheim with the book by George Furth: his loneliness is masked by his close involvement with 5 married couples who keep his social calendar full but keep him from facing who he needs to become (his lonely room travels with him). Cinderella is a fine example of this kind of story: a hard working girl in a terrible situation who needs help to escape. People pine away, living alone with a desperate hope of a Knight in Shining Armor or a Lady in White who will lighten the darkness.

The hope of the future in this case shoves everything else aside; all we have to do is hang in there and everything will be better. We won’t have to answer tough questions, especially tough questions about ourselves and how we relate with others. It will be taken care of in spite of us, in the blink of an eye, when we meet that special someone. We’ll find that perfect world with that perfect someone, or at least a world we can deal with. Someone will show up with the glass slipper that fits our foot.

Without true inner change that starts before the shiny Knight or Lady’s arrival, the loneliness always returns in spite of someone already riding to the rescue. A lonely person unwilling to look at themselves honestly will always be lonely. The leaves of the trees in Eden will change color and fall, winter will return. The Knight will either rust or ride back over the horizon; the Lady will vanish in the morning light or transform into a crone. The causes and misconceptions that make us miserable don’t go away just because we’ve met someone we fall for. We won’t be able to appreciate what another can give us because we’re still focused on our own wants and desires, the feelings that made us lonely in the first place.

What can be said about romantic relationships can be said about longing for a better job, a better faith home, better leadership for a group we belong to, better politicians to control of the state or country. We usually want things to change around us, but we want ourselves and our surroundings to stay the same as that perfect future tailored to us happens. We can find that new job with promise, that better faith community, that election victory, and our lives will turn around, but if we don’t change ourselves, it’s all for naught. We will need to fill out the resumes again, we search again for the perfect group, the perfect place. It can be about true about groups of people. The tragedy of the Obama administration is we could elect a black president but since we didn’t change anything else and assumed we’d conquered something we barely dealt with, the old demons returned rather quickly and have bedeviled us all in greater force since then.

The future will not save us from ourselves, will not dispel our problems by itself. This is similar to the myth that technology or evolution will deliver us from our dark sides. Unless we face our demons, face how we need to change our minds and hearts, talk to those we’ve cast our lot with, nothing will truly change even if the exteriors, structures, people or locations do. Merging people who won’t face their own problems will only amplify the problems, not resolve them.

The hope is centering our lives on Carl Jung’s Transpersonal Other: finding the center of our lives outside ourselves. Then we can be secure in being who we are while being honest about who we need to become. Then we can realize that although we need others and need to be changed by others, we have to be an active participant in our life’s direction. As a Christian, the answer is in the imitation of Christ. When we can put Christ in the center, we can discover our best selves and be what we need to be with others. We will also never be alone even if we’re called to live out our lives as hermits. We will all be Knights in Shining Armor riding together. Even being alone in the dark will be a place of comfort instead of despair.

Here’s summaries of Oklahoma!  and Company  if you need them. The emblematic songs are Lonely Room and Being Alive  (song starts at 0:50 in the video); the second one offers a chance of hopeful self-transformation even though he’s still looking outside himself too much.

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2 comments

  1. Pamela Demasi · · Reply

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to focus on following Jesus and not on what other people are doing! Great homily or stray thought!

  2. I love this, Father Keith! So much food for thought and reflection and finally … planning and *doing*. Truly maturing and growing up and doing so in and with Christ is something all of us can aspire to, but it would seem that few achieve…. –David

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