Loneliness and Isolation
Last month I read an article in The Boston Globe by Billy Barker entitled “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.” A great deal of it resonated with me but one sentence in particular caught my attention. It was this. “Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.”
The essayy caused me to reflect on my life and the friends both in it and those that have passed through it. I doubt that loneliness or isolation was a concept that I understood as a boy on a diary farm in southern Ontario. Most of my time when I wasn’t entertaining myself was spent with my parents or the farm pets. In the one-room school that I attended I made more friends and of course on the bus ride to and from high school even more. And I think at the time that although it was assumed that we would all eventually be married and rear our own families that our bonds would continue for all time.
And then my parents moved to a more distant city and I with them. All my old friends were at least an hour’s drive away, and other than family I had no friends. Soon after the move I went to work and I think that nearly all of the people that I called friends were people that I worked with. And so it continued for most of my life and as I moved from one job or career to another, so would my circle of friends evolve, keeping some and adding some new ones. I acquired some new friends through membership in service clubs and other organizations. And throughout it all the thought never really crossed my mind that I didn’t have enough friends but always left room for a few more.
However, it never occurred to me how great the impact of a career was on my circle of friends until I retired. Suddenly a lot of those people that I could depend on to share a story regularly over a coffee or a sandwich were gone. Now I cherish even more those who remain.
And as for those high school friends that I thought that I would never lose contact with, I haven’t heard from any of them in fifty years. In some ways I envy a few acquaintances who have managed to stay in close contact with people that they have know from their early childhood school days. Of course it was moving away from the place where we lived that severed the relationships but it would still be comforting to have maintained those links.
Fortunate are those elderorphans who enjoy the luxury of having a lot of friends. One day soon I hope that we can have a discussion addressing how we can all meet and keep new ones. The record seems to suggest that most women are much better at this than men. What can we learn from them?