Last spring, I went to see the sites in Old City, Jerusalem. If you’ve been there, you know what a life-changing adventure it can be. We stayed in hostels, graced the touristy sites and spent time processing the life of Jesus as He walked the city streets. One of the days, our group decided to go back and spend more time at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Having been there before, I decided to strike out on my own and explore some of the back alleyways of this historic city.
Most of the streets are at best, 15 feet wide with small, hundred year old shops that dot every nook. There are few cars and tons of people. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea where I was. I knew that eventually I’d recognize a building, storefront or restaurant, but at the time, I was dithering. Maybe it’s this way. Or maybe I should take a left at the next alley. I was lost.
Stumbling around a corner, I found myself on a larger street and in the middle of an even larger crowd. The group was so densely packed that I had no option but to walk the same way they were walking. Turning to the guy uncomfortably close to me, I asked if he knew where my hostel was. He looked at me funny and simply said, “Polska.” Yes, I was in the middle of a Christian pilgrimage group from Poland. No English, just Polish. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t communicate. I knew no one and no one knew me. I was a disconnected human in a sea of a connected human group being moved along by the ebb and flow of people whose language was spoken through puckered lips.
At that moment, in the middle of hundreds, I was lonely. That’s the funny thing about loneliness. It doesn’t have to do with people proximity. It has everything to do with people connection. Pain and grief cause disconnection which is fuel for the fires of loneliness.