I’ve been — I’ve lived — in Washington State for nearly two months now. I know my way around the hospital. I can get from my place across the river to Cascade Station (read: IKEA) without using Google Maps. I cook enough for more than one meal, but sometimes end up eating too much. I go to church, and people recognize me (which feels more than a little unsettling). I’ve paid my first round of monthly bills. I’m not the newest neighbor anymore. Soon, I won’t be the newest chaplain.
Yet, if I’m honest, despite trying to reach out when I need help, despite trying to find communities to which I can belong, I’ve become aware of a couple things. I feel very lonely, alone, and this loneliness permeates from sitting on the couch reading to fidgeting on the pew at church to walking around the grocery store, irritated with the people who are blocking the aisles trying to determine their shampoo or potato chip of choice. I get these moments where my breath gets stuck and my chest hurts. Little things like deciding what to make for dinner and determining whether or not to see a movie — these things actually hurt, physically.
Recently, I purged many of my social media connections (read: I unfriended a bunch of people). In the same sitting, I went through the contacts in my phone and deleted number after number. And saying this next part, it’s hard to not feel a bit dramatic, but with each click, I felt like I was releasing a bit of hope or fantasy or longing back into the ether. Odds are, I felt, my actions wouldn’t be noticed by the other parties. The other person wouldn’t get some random ding on their phone that said, “ALERT: You can no longer see Michael Overman’s countless posts on Doctor Who or funny cats.”
For the longest time… and still now, if I’m being honest… I don’t operate under the assumption that friendships take time to develop. If I like you, even the slightest bit, I go from zero to you’re-the-most-amazing-person-I’ve-ever-known in a moment. There isn’t even a unit of time short enough to measure how quickly it happens for me. The problem: that’s not reality. Feeling drawn in by a person’s smile or eyes or affinity for dark chocolate or knowledge of Natalie Weiss doesn’t make us best friends.
It doesn’t make up for the time it takes to find yourself on the other’s couch crying silently when there aren’t words to describe your sadness.
It doesn’t account for having those knock down, drag out fights where you both scream and say mean things and have to learn to forgive.
It doesn’t mean that you like each other, much less that you love each other.
It doesn’t mean you know each other.
Admitting this, putting it to words, feels really sad. Partly because I feel sometimes like vulnerability is actually harder than I make it out to be, and partly because I know if I feel this way, someone else does too. Someone else in the worlds feels unknown, unnoticed, unseen. And that feels as sad as feeling this way myself.
I’m thankful for the friends I have, but I’m struggling to know what to expect of them. How often should I call them, and how often should I fight my compulsion to reach out, giving them the chance to make the first move? How much time do they spend texting, and how annoyed are they with me for how much I text?
My old boss challenged me to sit with the loneliness I feel. I’ve been sitting with it alright… and wine, and Oreos, or Little Debbies, or Nutella. I’ve sat with it with my hand glued to my phone waiting anxiously for some kind of movement on the other side.
…I don’t think that’s what she meant…
I don’t have any answers right now. And I don’t have much energy — something I talked about with my new doctor this morning, who also wants to get me to a point where I can sleep without chemical assistance. I did have the urge to write, to put some of what I’m feeling to the page. And as I do, Kylar rubs up against my leg, looks up at me in his usual way, and reminds me that I’m okay… and he wants catnip. At least I know what to expect of him.
photo credit: Bert Kaufmann via Flickr, cc.
MICHAEL OVERMAN is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. As a self-admitted “old soul”, Michael is more than comfortable asking the tough questions and not having immediate answers. Michael is passionate about all things interfaith, challenging the religious status quo — and baking whenever possible.
As he says, “Running from God is easy… running back to God is anything but.” He tried parish ministry. Too hot. He tried the nonprofit sector. Too cold. He finally tried hospital chaplaincy. Just right.
Michael currently lives in Vancouver, WA where he is a hospital chaplain. In his spare time, he loves chocolate, wine, and scifi.
Check out more of Michael’s writing at www.findingthebalance.net.