It was just like this.
Last year, I discovered an old lap writing desk that had belonged to my great grandmother. Made out of beautiful polished wood, it was edged with brass and had an inbuilt, well-used leather blotting pad embossed into the lid. And it was heavy, which meant that something was still definitely being kept inside.
I found the writing desk in an outside shed in the bottom of a box of mildewed linens which had not been opened since my parents’ move into their current house 11 years ago. The problem was, there was no key.
Until one day, exploring treasures, I found it. One of those old fashioned hollow keys with a curlicue handle that fitted the lock exactly. The desk sprang open and inside were carefully tied bundles of letters and cards and photographs and hair ribbons and memorabilia that had been painstakingly stored by my mother’s mother’s mother. Irreplaceable family memories locked away for posterity.
And just to think, I had so nearly taken that box of smelly linen to the tip without even checking.
Like Gan’s writing desk, I found a key to myself this week. I read a book that referred to the “hot loneliness” of the human condition. I gasped and lay still for a long time.
I’d always assumed loneliness was cold and isolated and lifeless. Hadn’t it felt like that? Recognising that loneliness is hot, pierced the centre of my being and connected me to myself.
My loneliness had only felt cold because I tried so hard to suppress it or obscure it. To cover it with story, or smother it with food, or wrap it in my duvet, or – later – to extinguish it with alcohol, or vaporise it with anger, or deny it with distraction.
But I see now that my loneliness will have none of that. My loneliness is searingly hot, and this week since I’ve stopped all my semiconscious attempts to starve it of oxygen, it has burst through in all its fiery majesty enabling me to see it for what it is.
And I am BOILING.
Suddenly, I can’t wait to take off all the layers upon layers upon layers I have been using to try and cover it up. This hot loneliness. The layers have only made me hotter! I am suffocating in here! I can’t breathe!
I need to take it all off. Off, off, off. No more concealing, no more quenching, no more diverting, no more reaching for a sonic boom of anger which will somehow blast it into space. Away from me.
No, I think I am finally ready to face it for what it is. Loneliness. Searing, scary, intimidating, enraging, flaming, crushing, unbearably heavy. And hot.
And by loneliness, I don’t mean being alone. I am content with my own company much of the time. Loneliness is simply the shield covering the painful, incendiary core of why we feel lonely.
Because I have God, I think I’m at last ready to acknowledge this newly understood hot loneliness for all its worth. I’m at last in a place safe enough to say, “OK, Loneliness. You wanna show me what’s underneath? However painful it may be, I want to see it.”
The surprising thing is, now I’m ready to face reality and lifelong memory, I can’t wait to get rid of all the layers I’ve been using to hide myself from it.
I’m willing to feel loneliness melt all my carefully applied bandages and break off the hard caked substitutes I’ve plastered over myself to protect me from reality. To keep me hidden.
Because unwrapped, nakedly me, I will be in the light. And God will be able to show me/I will be able to see who I truly am, what I truly want, where I have truly been and how God can truly use it all now for my good.
Loneliness had always been working for my good, calling me to look so that I could own my own life. Face the real pain.
I need to let loneliness do its work, reveal its core, so I no longer need its heat to remind me of what I have to face.
Because I’ll be facing it.
And it will be really me.