“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him. His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek
Why, oh, why does it not say Texas Pain RELIEF Institute?
Daniel and I were friends from second grade onward, until I moved away.
I’m not sure if it was our mutual love of Mad® magazine, parody, or wearing army fatigues that we found here and there and the unearned ranks, units, and qualifications we’d poorly sew onto the faded olive drab fabric (I’m pretty sure I was a sergeant of a unit that never existed). We’d regularly sleep over at each other’s houses, throw up poorly breathing nylon tents in the back yard, and then go on maneuvers with our toy rifles; fording quickly flowing rivers or assaulting fortified hills. Daniel even managed to find a Korean-era K-ration we were too scared to eat. I mean, it smelled okay, but . . . . And we each shared magazines we certainly didn’t want to let our parents know we had (hint: boobies). And I still have one book he made me promise I’d return to him because it wasn’t his, this really has weighed on me, and I’m not kidding.
What magazines we looked at may or may not have looked like. I plead the fifth.
During the school day we skipped lunch together, talked science fiction together, and told bad jokes together. Our conclusion on Mel Brooks and Hogan’s Heroes? The best things on television, ever. Carrie Fisher and Sigourney Weaver? Our goddesses, along with Madeline Kahn. Especially when we saw Carrie in a bikini one night at Daniel’s house. Wow.
It was also Daniel who taught me that in Tom and Jerry, Jerry was the evil one.
When I visited him at Easter I knelt and did the novena, even though I wasn’t Catholic. We were brothers. Daniel and I belonged to the same tribe, until time and distance pulled us (mainly me) away.
This week a study (really, a metastudy, or summary of other studies, which is like a summary of Game of Thrones for your friends who don’t watch Game of Thrones) was released about loneliness and how being lonely negatively impacts health. (Hint, being lonely is worse than being obese, drinking too much, or not having enough Pez® to stick to your eyebrows on St. Johns’ Day in Nova Scotia.)
AARP commissioned a study that says that 42 million people older than 45 suffer from “chronic” loneliness. Since there were only 120 million people older than 45 when they did the study, that means that over 35% of those people over 45 are . . . sad. And it’s very sad when that many old people with that many wrinkles are sad.
What does chronic loneliness do to you?
It increases your odds of death by . . . 50%. That sounds like a lot, and it is. That’s almost worse than the wrinkles.
So in the age of Facebook®, people are less connected to one another. In fact, in another study they found that old people who relied less on email and social media for their social connections were . . . happier. Let me write that in blazing letters across the sky:
Facebook® is no substitute for calling the people you know and love and talking to them. Period.
I’ve watched Facebook™ grow, and I’ve viewed social media with skepticism. I tried to get on Facebook®, but it never was able to engage me. Facebook® seemed so much shallower than blogging. Also, I’ve always thought that Facebook© was a tailor-made infidelity machine – putting people who used to have sex back together, while removing all of their bad qualities in a haze of boozy memories. There is no way that I wanted to fight off all of the girls who were chasing me like I was a Roadrunner®. Heavens, who has that energy??
Let this be a reminder, the people on Facebook™ have bad morning breath, have bad armpit smells, and leave their socks all over the place (except, of course, me). But to a lonely spouse, or worse, and idealized memory? Not so much.
Let’s pretend that Facebook© was really, really good at helping people really connect on a spiritual level? They’d disable that feature in a second.
Facebook® makes money when you’re dissatisfied, and makes money upon your dopamine receptors which are always looking for novelty. Facebook™ makes money when you hit refresh and scroll through more updates and see more ads, or look to see how many people “Liked” you. Facebook© is free to you because your attention is the product. And your dissatisfaction is the way to maximize their return. Thank heavens for youtube videos of cats!!!
Why are older folks getting lonely?
Well, my parents had dinner parties. When they were in their 50’s I was still a pup, and had to got to go to their dinner parties, at least when they were at our house. The couples would get together, and they’d immediately split up. The ladies would go the kitchen and drink whatever Mom made for ‘em, even though it smelled like something that would catch on fire if a stray spark veered by.
The men would retire to the dining room (nobody smoked anymore) and drink bourbon, scotch and talk about elk hunting, war (real, actual war) stories, or how the weather was, or what the crops were like. Someone would make an off-color joke, and give me a wink and a nudge. Really, it was always Vern that did that. Honestly, most of the jokes were right over my head unless they were directly and obviously about boobs, but at least I was part of the game.
After drinks, there would be dinner. Which would also include drinks.
Afterwards? Cards and a communal gathering, until the time came that people would head home. The game of cards itself was meaningless, merely a reason to sit around the table and talk more. And drink more. It was a good thing that they mainly left before Star Trek©.
The gatherings were even more wide ranging than that – on occasion we’d go spend the night, for instance, at a cabin deep in the mountains that one of the families owned. During the course of that weekend we built a mountain road with a road grader, rode horses, and I outshot all of them with Pop Wilder’s .222. Oh, I and won a game or three of Risk®.
We hunted together with Pop Wilder’s friends. We went on wide-ranging 4×4 trips deep into the forest at 12,000 feet. We rode snowmachines together. Although I was certainly the junior member, more than anything it looked like a tribe – a group of friends that supported each other and shared in each other’s joys and sorrows as we snacked on ziplock-fresh sandwiches at 12,000 feet.
And today I don’t see that. Although I know a zillion adults, most of them don’t get together like this. Most of the adults I could get together with like this (there’s a pretty big implied trust) live very far away.
In our current world, we spend our time chasing our children on their adventures (wrestling, football, academics, Boy Scouts, etc.) and focusing on our spousal relationship, and finally, work. I know that sounds like the best way to spend your time, but . . . is it, really?
Right now, as a family, we depend upon the iron triad of children, work and spouse. All of my adult friends (locally) come from either my children or my work, or, IS The Mrs. What happens when work changes (this is a minority of friends we see, so not much) or the kids get older? Two thirds of the local social network dries up. That day.
And, I recall that the social network for my parents lived on with them after I graduated. After Pop Wilder retired. It was a durable network. They may have been alone, but they were never lonely.
In some weird way, we seem to have taken the informal support networks from men and women. We seem to have replaced them with the evanescence of work and children.
We have, when those support networks crumble over time, ignored those left over. And they get lonely. They don’t have Vern attempting to turn the butter into my thumb when he passed it to me (it never worked, I was young and fast, and he was older and a bit inebriated).
Where are they now? Are they in our past, those who trust us with their very souls?
There is an endless summer.
That endless summer contains every single day young boys spent together in a world bound only by imagination, in a world where each barley field represented a chance to crawl on our bellies toward enemy lines to stop the Germans in their tracks, or to stop the Cylons® before they could hit our main base. One last swig from the canteen before we braved the minefields and tried to take out the German 88mm gun before it savaged our boys to pieces.
We played at life, at courage, at understanding where we fit in our tribe. We discussed love before we knew what it was. We discussed right and wrong when we were living it. We displayed strength because it was intertwined with our being.
I called Daniel’s number tonight for the first time in years. I remember their house, and I know right where they were when they picked up the phone, heck, the number was familiar with me. They remembered me through the fog of ages.
I’ll talk to Daniel soon.
Why did I wait so long? Guilt. I felt (and still feel) that I’m the one who killed our endless summer with the starting of my car and the loss of my virginity. I’d left the fields of play behind. I’d left the best friend that I’d ever had or will ever have behind.
Tonight I gathered up the courage to make the call back towards summer, the call back to the innocence of boys bound together in blood, in bad comedy, in Steve Martin, in mutual, total trust.
And we’ll go back to the summer, where we belong. At least for a few minutes when we talk.
Did it get dusty in here? My eyes seem to be watering.
Nobody gets to be lonely in summer . . . especially not an endless one.