An Open Letter to Stephen Fry – in response to ‘Only the Lonely’

Dear Stephen

this is not a critique of your immensely personal and rich posting ‘Only the Lonely’. It’s just something I felt moved to write upon reading your words – so thank you for the inspiration. It’s the first blog entry I’ve written in a while…

In the reductionist world of intellectual thought, this letter has statistically only a teeny tiny chance of being read by the one person it is meant for. So Stephen, if you ever do come to rest your eyes upon my clumsy words, that in itself might just support two of the concepts that I believe have kept man persevering even when in the jaws of total failure – the concepts of hope and miracles.

‘Oh Gosh’, I hear you yawn. ‘Another damned fool shipwrecked on the illusory isle of spirituality, lighting fires daily and writing giant s.o.s. messages in the sand in the vain hope that one day, through some sort of miracle, an invisible force from above will see something and rescue him’.

Well, yes. I guess so.  In fact I think you could say I base my whole life on a simple premise. That being that all the time I keep writing those messages in the sand and keep lighting those fires, that one day I will be ‘rescued’.  But hang on before you consign me to the etheric waste-basket of spiritual losers for posterity – remember, it’s a miracle you’re even reading this.

You quoted The Bard of course and I have no intention here of dissecting a speech that, even today as a middle-aged man, I have to read bits of at least five times to grasp the true meaning. Yes you are, in relative terms, dealing with a bit of an imbecile. And, no, I’m not being self-deprecating.

Stephen, you will of course know of the work of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Her poem ‘Solitude’  takes an interesting angle on being alone:

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;

Weep, and you weep alone.

For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,

But has trouble enough of its own.

Sing, and the hills will answer;

Sigh, it is lost on the air.

The echoes bound to a joyful sound,

But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;

Grieve, and they turn and go.

They want full measure of all your pleasure,

But they do not need your woe.

Be glad, and your friends are many;

Be sad, and you lose them all.

There are none to decline your nectared wine,

But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;

Fast, and the world goes by.

Succeed and give, and it helps you live,

But no man can help you die.

There is room in the halls of pleasure

For a long and lordly train,

But one by one we must all file on

Through the narrow aisles of pain.”

It describes loneliness rather well don’t you think in this modern, busy world? And it does justice to the very point you make about loneliness. – that being that it is our constant companion, whoever we are and whatever station we have achieved in life.  Do-gooders who claim others have no need or reason to feel lonely are a danger to themselves as well as others. People who deny the existence of loneliness in anybody’s life, including their own, are almost certainly delusory. Loneliness is as much a part of the human condition as being born or breaking wind. It happens. It’s not right or wrong, it just is.  

But what I particularly like about Wilcox’s work here is that what she is really describing in this 19th century poem is the choice we all have as to how we meet loneliness.

And I have found that there is nothing more scary, terrifying, insulting or outrageous, to some people, particularly those who have had suicidal thoughts or been depressed for long periods of their lives, than the idea that we actually have a choice as to how we meet a feeling. I can choose to ‘give’ when I feel like I need to take; I can choose to ‘feast’ even though I don’t feel I deserve to eat; I can choose to see that there’s something to ‘sing’ about even though a part of me wants to ‘sigh’ about the unfairness of it all; I can choose to take my place in ‘the halls of pleasure’ even when I feel like I should be withdrawing into my shell.  It is  knowing I have a choice in every moment as to how I meet a feeling that gives me hope. And as Alexander Pope so eloquently wrote many moons ago ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast’.

The truth is we die alone. We can also die into every moment of course, seeing ourselves as isolated and unloved. And we can die into every moment in an ecstasy of total surrender, knowing that ultimately we don’t have all the answers and we don’t know how something’s going to pan out, and that’s ok.

We can make the choice to keep building the fire, to keep writing our messages in the sand, to keep hoping that there is indeed value in choosing to see ourselves as  ‘connected’. To whom or to what? Can we define it? Does it happen?

Well Stephen, if you never read this I will continue to have hope that one day you may – for hope is a choice I continue to make daily. And, if you do indeed end up reading this, some sort of extraordinary connection, aka miracle, has happened somewhere. And if that’s true – then that can give us all hope.

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