Alone in the Crowd
This is the GRAND MARDI GRAS ISSUE! It is a season that we celebrate each year. Carnival time! As a native of this glorious, thread-bare, quixotic city I sometimes enjoy and at other times hide from the mayhem. I must say that I do enjoy Krewe du vieux! All of that said, has anyone wandered down the street in the midst of the crowd and not felt a buzz, not gotten a lift, in fact have felt perhaps “left out” somehow? I imagine more people than one might expect. Increasingly our community is being assaulted with social isolation. Even more deeply and more toxic is a thing that has permeated humanity since the earliest times…loneliness.
Can someone die of loneliness? The answer is YES.
Now I write this at an odd time of the year. It would appear that Carnival is a time when we are least apt to feel lonely. Yet, I suspect that is not the case. Have you ever been in a room filled with people, many of whom you may know, and felt lonely? I suspect that the answer, at least for some, is “yes.” Medical researchers are starting to understand loneliness as a health issue. So much so is the evidence that loneliness is toxic that the U.K. has appointed a “Minister of Loneliness” to deal with the growing epidemic of loneliness. Here are some of the biological health risks of loneliness:
• Elevated blood pressure that if
chronic can lead to dementia and
other related illnesses.
• Coronary heart disease.
• Chronic in ammation.
• Premature risk of mortality.
• Obesity, chronic drinking (stop the wise cracks), and loss of social skills.
“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Utah, said in a statement.
Our community social institutions are starting to fade. The day when the “safe place” was the local gay bar is slowly eroding. Stop weeping in your cups m’dears it will all be ok! Just different. Gay bars provided venues for people to get to know each other well…yes maybe too well sometimes. But nonetheless relationships were forged in these ‘savannah watering holes.’ But with a liberalizing general public where being gay is quickly becoming ‘no big deal.’ The social necessity of Gay Bars is fading. Who knows what if anything will replace them outside of social media. AND NO…GRINDER … is not a sufficient replacement for being humanly present, physical there with someone. GRIDER and even texting can be tool for connecting but it does not replace human engagement! Electronic media is only a pale shadow of who and what we are. So, loneliness will remain and perhaps increasing over the near term. Ageing Queens will become more isolated and younger bucks will become more inwardly focused how that will play out is hard to say.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Amon Ra ball. I will also be honored to attend the Ball Masque for the Lord’s. I encourage joining one of the several remaining Krewe’s as a preventative from isolation and loneliness. Over time real relationships and caring are fostered in these types of setting. Yes, they are and can be particular to the LGBTQ community and certainly for the next decade or so it is still important to be a community within communities because our society while liberalizing is not quite there yet. So, these clubs offer both a social meeting space and a purpose of identity that remains important.
As a priest of I strongly suggest church or houses of worship that are really and honestly inclusive and diverse. Being liberal and being honestly diverse and inclusive are two different critters. A liberal church may not share any disparaging remarks or theologies that would be politically or socially averse to being gay; BUT, that does not mean that such places are inclusive. So, to become part of a family and lay down roots, which is what churches are supposed to be about, find an inclusive church that is diverse. St. Anna’s is one such church. Not only that but it has powerful missions that add purpose to our social engagement with each other. A shared or common cause can very often be the setting for prosperous friendships. Churches that are inclusive, warm, with a mission are great places to fend off isolation and loneliness. You don’t necessarily have to buy into the theology but you can be a part of the community and in so doing become part of a larger family.
At the end of the day be mindful of isolation even among the parades, oats, ball masque, and revelry. Standing in the midst of noise can mask a loneliness that isolates and has deep implications for both spiritual and physical health. Understand, if you will, that texting is a convenience but it is really not relational. That snapchat, facetime, and grinder are only tools of communication they are not vehicles of human engagement. We are hardwired to be social yes even the most reclusive of us need to know that someone out there cares and shares our paths with us. We are not meant to be alone. Yet, our culture is moving increasingly into a loneliness that is pervasive. Please, friends, reach out and make a friend and be a friend and let none of us be alone.
He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid [or alone].”