Love the one you're with. This was one of my theme songs as I traveled and the song that is playing on my iPod as I begin this post.
Perhaps it is the reminder I need. In Louisville, I am surrounded by people who love me. I know this. I appreciate this on an intellectual level, but I don't always truly feel it. I don't always know it in my heart the way I know other things. I don't always take advantage of being near so many people who have been so good to me, but I am trying.
Sometimes I am frustrated that my friends don't have time for me. Sometimes I am frustrated that I don't make time for them. Anticipating a refusal, I decide not to even make the invitation. Anticipating feeling alone even when I am with people who love me, I reject invitations. This was one of my great sorrows, one that became a bad habit, for several years before I left on my travels. I have made great strides since I left and returned to Louisville. I am more willing both to make and accept invitations. I don't take refusals quite so personally. I do not (usually) hide behind "work" as I did for so long before my travels.
In Italy, I had the great fortune to meet up with some friends - former colleagues, friends, and students. Seeing them was a highlight of my time in Italy, and even of my travels. I distinctly remember a conversation with one of my friends. Somehow we got on the topic of relationships, the unlikely pairing she and her husband make (a true case of "opposites attract"), my own lack of a husband or serious relationship and the loneliness that I sometimes felt. I confessed to her that I had fought the idea of traveling on my own like I was currently doing. In 1996-97, I spent 9 months in Guatemala. After that, I declared that, though I loved my time in Guatemala, if I were to leave the country long-term again, I would want to do it with someone, to have someone to share the experience. Clearly, God had different ideas about this and I'm glad I trusted God's wisdom. God placed new friends and acquaintances along my path. I am in touch with some of them and believe that a few will remain in my life for years to come. Even with that being the case, shared experience with people I'd known for years added to my joy when I was in Rome and Assisi. I was definitely not lonely.
"You can feel lonely in a marriage, too." Having never been married, this was a revelation to me. It was also a comfort. A reminder that loneliness has nothing to do with one's marital or relationship status. Months ago, a friend who is one of the most outgoing people I know posted on Facebook that she was in the middle of a crowd and felt completely alone. Loneliness is an element of the human condition.
Recently I have made some invitations to get together with some friends. I have received no response. One suffered a death in the family and is hurting pretty bad, I'm told. It may take contacting her many times before I reach her, really reach her. I'll keep trying. The other, I suspect, goes through the same ebbs and flows of reaching out and being afraid to reach out that I do. I'll keep trying with her, too.
I am in Louisville. I am fortunate to be in a place where I am nestled in a blanket of love. Last night I shared an evening of stories and laughter with friends. Tonight I'll be with another friend, doing the same. I miss friends from my travels. I cherish the sporadic conversations I have with them.
I know I am not alone, even when I don't feel the love that I clearly see around me, the love that approaches me in waves, sometimes from thousands of miles away. From the center where my own ripple begins, the center that sometimes feels like loneliness, I will reach out to others sitting (un)comfortably in theirs. I pray that as our ripples intersect, as we allow our centers to be filled by the waves drawing near us, we will remember that we are not alone. I pray we will recognize that each of us is filled from the Source that makes ripples possible, so much so that we have the ability to flow out constantly. Amazingly, the more we pour out, the greater our ability will become to ripple endlessly out.