I paused in the grocery store parking lot the other day, to assist an older woman wrestling with her cane and grocery cart. After she was settled into her car, she explained about her misbehaving hip and the pain from it. She dropped her head and whispered four words. I had to lean in to hear her. “I am so lonely,” she said. She thanked me and closed her car door. She smiled at me, mouthing the words thank you. She had a look of embarrassment on her face, a look that bordered on shame, perhaps regretting confiding in a stranger about her feelings, as if it was a flaw in her character rather than a circumstance. I pulled my mask down and smiled and waved at her as she drove away. I returned her cart to its proper place and sat in my car for many minutes thinking of the interaction between the two of us.
Not long ago I listened to my favourite Tom Power on “Q” on CBC Radio as he interviewed Dallas Green. I must confess I wasn’t familiar with Dallas Green. He has flown below my radar of Canadian talent. Green spoke of his current album A Pill for Loneliness, the title alone grabbing hold of me. His voice is haunting, his music melancholy and moving, the lyrics powerful. He quoted someone who had declared that loneliness is a worse epidemic than obesity. I was nodding, thinking of the pandemic and the sense of isolation it has created as we try to halt its advance. He discussed the loneliness of touring, of being away from family, of the sometimes sense of not belonging anywhere. I thought of Dallas Green and his impressive body of work as I sat in my car and wished I could have changed the circumstance of loneliness for the woman with the cane, wished I had put my arms around her in comfort when I had the chance. Dallas said one of the reasons he creates music is because when we read a book or hear music that we connect to, we are no longer alone, there is another soul in the world whose heart beats as ours does. We can reach across whatever divides us and touch hands.
Maria Popova, one of my favourite bloggers, writes of Julia Perry whom she considers a musical “genius”, a woman of colour who was creating masterpieces before the Civil Rights movement. She was Julliard-trained, studied in Paris, was creating opera and ballet at a young age, with far too many successes to record here. Popova wrote of Perry’s music and work in her blog, saying “with her prescient words, doing for the common language of music what Einstein, brilliant and persecuted, had done for the common language of science eight years earlier.” Perry was of the opinion music is a “universal language”. She wrote in 1949 of humanity’s connection to music: “In music they find common meeting ground. And when they find themselves enjoying and loving the same music, they find themselves loving one another.” The philosophies of Julia Perry and Dallas Green settled on me like a warm breath of air, both expressing the same sentiment in their own words – we are all connected.
The days leading up to Christmas are a wonderful time of year, but for many it is a time of intense loneliness. Families are spread out around the world, and we all ache to be together. I long to open my arms and pull my daughters into my space, meeting all their needs, having solution for all their struggles, transforming them to their childhood selves when a kiss and a hug and a cookie fixed almost everything. I will be mindful of those whose lives have quieted, friendships misplaced, family too far away to touch. I wish for them, and myself and for you, a song, a phrase, a sound that lifts you up and takes you home.