Once, a cab driver picked me up with his grandmother in the passenger seat. “I was lonely,” she said, painting the rearview mirror with a soft smile. “I understand,” I replied. “I was lonely too until I climbed in here with you.”
Years ago, when I learned loneliness resonates in the same part of the brain as physical pain, nothing had ever struck me as more true. Connection is medicine. Whenever someone asks, “Would you like to take a ride with me?” I can feel the clouds in my veins opening to clear blue skies.
Illness has historically been the root of most of my loneliness. In 2017, when I was quite sick with Lyme disease, my partner traded her very reliable Toyota for an old convertible, so I could be in the world on days I struggled to get out of bed. She’d drive me through the Rockies and back down past the sunflower fields to the pastures of cows making friends. Do you know cows have best friends? I’m sure I’ve asked you that before. It’s too tender to not share.
My own best friend began taking me on drives every Saturday throughout chemotherapy as I was extra quarantined and rarely leaving home. Those drives are still the confetti of my week. We pack our 600 dogs into the backseat and cruise through the years: the school where we met, the first house where we bought our own welcome mat, the first mountain we climbed all the way to the summit––building our strength for what would come later.
Warsan Shire wrote, “My alone feels so good, I'll only have you if you're sweeter than my solitude.” I’ve always treasured those words, though lately I find most of my sweetness in togetherness––which has been even more precious to me since the beginning of the pandemic. When I wrote, “I’m happiest on the road, when I’m not here or there but in between, the yellow line running down the center of it all like a sunbeam”, I should have added that when the tollbooth asks for change, I want someone there to help me find it. When the light says go, I don’t want to go it alone.
I started thinking about all of this recently when someone asked if I’m afraid of dying, and if so why? “Are you afraid of it hurting? Are you afraid of loved ones forgetting your name? Are you afraid of finding nothing but nothingness on the other side?” I answered no to all of that.
When I fear dying, I fear loneliness. Not being lonely where I’m going, but being lonely on my way there. When I’m riding my motorcycle toward that portal of light, I want someone screaming, “HOLY SHIT, ANGELS EXIST!!!” from the side car. When the scenes of my life flash before my eyes, I want someone at that drive-in movie with me. Someone who will pass the popcorn when Malcom leaves me in the 4th grade for a mean girl with better lunch snacks, then takes me back only because I’ve bribed him with a mega pack of Lifesavers.
We are each other’s life savers. Something else about the cab driver’s grandmother—her hair was curled and sprayed, her mouth painted the color of a rose. She was dressed to the nines in her Sunday best for the church of good company.
Friends, if you’re lonely, I hope you know you’re not alone in that. And if you’re not lonely but know someone you suspect could use some company, why not call them up? Invite them to copilot the day even if you have to do it like I do –– with the windows down in thirty degree weather, wearing aviator goggles, and an N95, beneath which I am smiling into the rearview mirror at the loneliness I am leaving behind.
Love, Andrea 🖤