I wake up lonely. This does not happen often, but when it does I know tears are just below the surface and I feel the heavy weight of distance between me and the world.
It is not surprising, but it is unwelcome. Just last week I was surrounded by family and life, by water and activity in Istanbul. My husband and I had a 3-country trip planned to celebrate both of us turning 60 this year. Besides the state-side celebrations, our plan was to go to Egypt, Kurdistan, and Turkey.
All of those plans were laid in the large, globe sized pandemic grave of missed opportunities and revised plans and expectations. We felt glad to be alive and have food in our cupboards. Forget any grand plans.
But as the summer wore on and curves flattened, borders opening their doors just a tiny bit, we decided to push them open wider. My brother and sister-in-law and niece and her family were all in Istanbul, a place open to Americans with no quarantine needed. We may not get to Egypt and Kurdistan, but we could certainly take the nine plus hour flight to Istanbul.
And so we did. We left on a Friday night, arriving on the other side of the world on a Saturday afternoon. We took in the beautiful breezes on the Bosphorous as we went on ferry rides to the Black Sea and over to the European side of Istanbul. We took a cable car up to Pierre Lotti’s house overlooking the entire city, and we ticked a stay at the famed Pera Palace off of our bucket list. We ate delicious food, drank hot glasses of steaming tea, and laughed until our bellies ached.
Better still, our son who lives in Greece decided to surprise us, showing up at dinner time on our second day in Istanbul. The tears and joy filled my heart.
The entire trip was a gift. A gift of beauty and family, of hope and longing fulfilled.
And then – we returned. We returned to more strife than we left. We returned to a nation that is fighting, fearful, and jaundiced. We returned to mask shaming and covid deniers. We returned to a nation full of people who assume the worst of their fellow human beings, who spit on the Imago Dei to win an online argument. And me? I’m the worst offender of all.
For the first few days I braced myself. “I’m okay” I kept on saying. “I can do this.”
But today? Today I woke up and the loneliness that had hovered just around my heart closed in, squeezing it to a full physical ache. I began to cry. I cried and cried and cried. You know the kind of tears that are so healing and good for the soul? Those kind. They weren’t tears of self pity. They were tears of loneliness, brokenness, and pain for our world.
I felt lost in pandemic exile, trapped in lonely isolation. I sensed the cold weather that will inevitably come, and like the runaway bunny, my thoughts run unchecked and too far into a cold, lonesome future.
I know where to take this ache, but it feels heavy and I’m not sure I can carry it and drop it at those feet, those dust-covered, blistered, scarred feet of JesusBetween Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging
It is now several hours later. My eyes hurt from the crying, my soul is exhausted, but somehow I know it will all be okay. This God who has heard me since I was a little girl when the tears flowed in boarding school still hears me, still comforts me with his invisible presence. Hope blooms out of lonely tears, like the sunflowers that unexpectedly bloomed in our garden, welcoming us on return.
May the loneliness I feel be the catalyst for reaching out harder, praying longer, and knowing even more fully that sometimes only God alone can be the comfort we all so desperately need.