The old woman lay on her bed, staring blankly through clouded blue eyes at the large flakes of falling snow. She waited passively for the familiar sound of the clanging metal dinner cart to come down the hall. It was difficult to work up an appetite for the tasteless, pasty potatoes and cherry flavored Jello they would no doubt wheel into her room.
The long days ran together. This day was even more depressing than the rest. Her daughter and her daughter’s husband and their sullen thirteen year old had come for their monthly visit. She tried to not be irritated with them; she knew they were trying to be pleasant, but she found no interest in the boring little events of their life. Yet, she felt so lonely when they left, an even deeper sense of loneliness than she usually experienced. She felt sorry for them, in a way, because she knew they felt guilty for putting her in the home against her will.
“But, who would take care of you, dear?” she remembered her daughter saying. “With my work and Bill’s career, we couldn’t possibly meet your needs.”
She remembered the last day she was in her own home. Her daughter had stopped in to check on her. Even though she was disoriented, she tried to hide the blood from her mouth, but her daughter noticed and called the ambulance. Ever since she had had the first stroke, she had dreaded being taken back to the hospital. With pleading, tearful eyes she begged the medics not to take her. Fear gripped her heart as they lifted her into the ambulance. She knew they would never allow her to come home again. Even though her husband had been dead for years, she still wanted to be in her own home and around the familiar belongings she still possessed.
The snow had turned to flurries now. She glanced at the large wall calendar. Sighing, the old woman reflected back on her life as she thought of the eighty four years she had lived. “So many years,” she thought. “So many times of loneliness ... and now to die alone ...”
She had been born in the early 50’s into an upper middle class, Dr. Spock inspired family. Her earliest memories were of enjoying the warmth and affection of being a cute, entertaining little girl. As her undisciplined attitudes and personality emerged, she remembered the beginning of feeling separated from this love and attention. Soon, with more time spent in school and in front of the television, she became more and more alone in her thoughts and activities. Her alienation from her parents caused her to seek love and gratification wherever it was available.
As she grew into a youth she remembered thinking, “When I get married and have children, I’m going to have a good, loving relationship with my children ... not like the relationship I have with my parents.” She couldn’t relate to their life or concerns over money, their alcoholism or their social hypocrisy. They obviously couldn’t relate to her increasing rebellion and independence. The chasm grew wider and wider. There was no communication apart from friction. Yet she deeply desired to be understood by her parents. They seemed to have problems and concerns she was never allowed to ask about. “I must be the source of their problems and unhappiness,” was her only conclusion. Her mother stood in her bedroom doorway one day and told her coldly and as a matter of fact, “I don’t love you.” Even her attempted suicide at sixteen couldn’t cause her parents to see her desperate need for them. Little did she know of their deep feelings of loneliness and alienation.
Even her friendships seemed so insecure and fleeting. The number of friends around always seemed to depend on whether she had Dad’s car, a decent boyfriend, or some good dope. She hated the feelings of loneliness and earnestly sought to be sincerely connected to something or somebody. “What is the purpose of life?” she would wonder. “Why am I here? What is reality?”
These uncomfortable questions only alienated her more from her friends and family. Nobody really wanted to think about it. “You’re trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders,” her father would say. “Don’t be so serious about life.” He would kindly, but firmly, dismiss her questions.
Even her questions about God were answered by stony glances from the nuns at Saturday Catechism. God seemed so far away, unconcerned and unreachable. She felt she could never say enough “Hail, Marys” or “Our Fathers” to please Him. When she was in the third grade she asked, “Why can’t I feel God’s love or forgiveness? Who is He?” Instead of giving her answers, the monsignor told her parents she would need to repeat the year because she “didn’t know who God was.”
In her feelings of rejection, she thought, “If this God is so hard to know, I don’t want to know him.” Rebellious thoughts and feelings continued to stir. When she was twelve or thirteen she stood in the massive, dark cathedral — alone and feeling more empty than ever in her young life.
“Why do I feel so alone?” she dared to say aloud in the presence of the lifeless, compassionless statues and the sorrowful, lonely looking Jesus. “If you are real, God, please show me your love.” Her voice echoed off the cold, paneled walls. “I’m leaving now, but if you are real, don’t lose me, please.” Wiping the tears from her eyes, she went back onto the streets looking for some reason to live.
Soon afterwards she became deeply involved in the peace movement. Finally she saw a purpose in life — something to connect her to people — the comradeship of trying to “do something” about the social and political injustices of the day. Her participation in the movement made her feel that there were at least some people with whom she wasn’t alienated. Her life was full of rallies, marches and hours spent standing in lines to concerts, getting signatures to petitions against President Nixon’s policies.
Unfortunately, the euphoric feelings of the common bond and friendships were short lived. Everyone seemed so sincere, yet the discomforts of being devoted to the “cause” started affecting her friends. “I can’t go to the peace rally tonight; I got tickets to the Hendrix concert,” or, “You know you are really starting to look burnt out — why don’t you lighten up a little?” These were the comments she started to hear.
She remembered the time in prep school when she tried to raise money for people starving in Biafra. In her sincerity she fasted for a week to try to understand the pain of hunger. No one would fast with her — no one really cared. A few dropped some change in the cup, but most snickered behind her back. She remembered thinking what air heads they were, but really she felt hurt and rejected by their indifference and apathy towards her and what was going on in the world. No matter what she tried to do to feel connected, she still felt alienated. She didn’t like their values, but she hated feeling alone. She had made a half hearted attempt to keep up with the few friends she had after high school, but even that effort had an ironic conclusion. Years later she drove over three hundred miles to her class’s 20th reunion. She was the only one who came.
Her first year in college found her depressed and cynical. She still wondered, almost hopelessly, what reality was. What was the purpose to life? Half way through that year she decided to join the Peace Corps. She had had enough of the crazy scene of lonely kids looking for identity, cheerleaders screaming down the dorm hallways and the empty, purposeless pursuit of higher education. “Surely the Peace Corps needs me,” she thought. “I can give my life to helping in some foreign country. Peace Corps workers have a common goal and vision.” Hope sprang up in her heart.
Her application was rejected. They politely said thank you, but we have no openings for someone whose major is in Special Education. That day she sat on the beach, utterly rejected and alone, seriously contemplating walking into the ocean. Words to the song of Eleanor Rigby went through her head ... nobody would care.
She met her husband soon afterwards and happily dropped out of college. Here was someone who really understood her, someone she could share her life with. They decided to bail out of society and the futility of trying to change the world. They bought some horses and property and began a life of trying to live off the land. She buried the years of loneliness and rejection. The deep scars of alienation began to heal over as they gave sweat, blood and tears to make the homesteading dream come true. A new beginning ...
Years passed. The physical aspect of the dream materialized. They had three beautiful daughters and a self sufficient life. The land was paid for; their beautiful log home looked out over green rolling hills. They had an abundance of good, organic food and serene wilderness surrounded them.
But, reality was she still couldn’t deny the emptiness and loneliness she felt. She loved her husband, but she knew she didn’t totally trust him. She was independent of him in so many ways and her lack of trust left a chasm in their relationship. She tried to be submissive to him, looking for him to make decisions, but his own insecurity left him vulnerable, indecisive, and unfulfilled. Looking back, she remembers the nights she went out into the field above their house and looked up into the stars. “Where are you, God? Why do I still feel so lonely?” She would cry.
One day she was approached by a friend who had recently had a “born again” experience. “God is real!” her friend told her. “Jesus Christ came to the earth and died for your sins; He loves you,” she proclaimed.
She was far too cynical to believe this. “Oh, really,” she replied. “If Jesus came to the earth, why is it in such a mess? Why is there war and poverty and pain in every corner of the earth?”
She resisted her friend’s attempts to get her to a Bible study for months. There was no way she was going to lay herself bare to the possibility that the salvation message was true and then find out it wasn’t true. She had been disappointed and rejected too many times. The only thing she saw in Christianity was division. She was all right as she was. She continued to try to convince herself that she could suppress her feelings of loneliness. She had a life to pour into her children. When the pain of her childhood surfaced, she tried to hide it by devoting herself to being an understanding and loving mother.
“My children will grow up and love me,” she thought. “I’ll listen to their questions and understand their concerns. I’ll have answers for them ...”
“Answers?” She knew she didn’t have answers. She had no more answers than her parents had for her. “What if there was a God and his Son really did come to earth? What hope do I have to give to my children?” She talked with her husband about these questions. They knew they were responsible to know what the truth was — they had to be accountable for their life and their children’s lives.
They began to pray to know the truth. Their prayers became more earnest as they prayed, “If you are real, show us. Give us faith and belief in you and your Son.
She laid herself bare ... she allowed all the old wounds to be uncovered. She admitted her need, her utter, empty hopelessness about life. This was it — a last ditch effort to be vulnerable, a last ditch effort to know the purpose of life.
“What is reality?” she cried. “God, are you real? I love you. I need you. Please show me your love and forgiveness.” All the old scars were ripped wide open and left exposed.
Somehow they began to sense that it was true: God really did love them. Joy and hope welled up in her heart. She and her husband believed that Jesus Christ died for their sins. They were able to admit their own greed and selfishness, their bitterness and anger against mankind. They were able to admit that all along they hadn’t been a part of the solution, but just as much a part of the problem.
But it only took a few months to realize that once again she had been disappointed. The good feelings didn’t last. After hopping from church to church, Bible study to Bible study, they saw that Christianity was as full of division and hypocrisy as they had initially feared.
She believed she was loved and forgiven, but she couldn’t live by a belief in her head. She needed to experience it in her life. She still felt wretched. Her friends were too busy to come over and pray with her. They told her there was something wrong with her prayer life and that she wasn’t spiritual enough. The hurt of being rejected by God’s supposed people was greater than any pain she had experienced before. What was wrong with her? She had allowed herself to be vulnerable and let people tell her her faults and sins, yet she was left without help like a patient cut open for heart surgery and then left on the table to somehow pull through.
Time and time again she read in the scriptures where the disciples shared everything they had — they had a common life of love and care for one another. Whenever she and her husband talked with their friends about this, they would either say, “That was for back then,” or, “Yes, that’s right, but I’ve got my job, you know,” or, “Yeah, let’s get together and share a meal sometime; right now I’ve got a basketball game to catch.”
She longed to be a part of a people — a people having one mind, heart and purpose. She would stand at her sink washing dishes and cry as she looked out at her once serene woods. “Why don’t I feel your love, God? Shouldn’t your love be shown through your people?”
She and her husband stopped going to church. Utterly disappointed, they somehow managed to hang onto their belief in God.
The old woman’s thoughts drifted back to the present. The snow started to fall more heavily now as the day’s light was disappearing into the shadows of dusk. Here she was, ending a life full of disappointments. And her final heartbreak was that her children had grown up just as rebellious and independent as she had. The only difference was that they had rebelled against her alternative lifestyle, while she had rebelled against the upper middle class lifestyle of her parents. Her hopes for a better relationship had been dashed — they never understood her or desired the homesteading life. She couldn’t blame them. What did she have to offer them?
The old woman sensed that death was close to her. She was afraid to die. She knew that there was a God, but He still felt so far away and she was afraid to face eternity. She still had no real understanding of the purpose of life or any answers to the questions she had searched for. Why had her life been so empty? Why had all her relationships fallen apart? Why had she never been able to gain her children’s hearts? Why had Christianity offered so much but given so little? All the broken promises had merely brought her to this hour, lying in a cold, sterile, lifeless room ... alone and waiting for death.
The story of the old woman’s dying years is fictional. The events of her life, however, are true. They are the events of my life. But in God’s incredible mercy, He heard my cry and rescued me from a life of loneliness. He has shown me the purpose of life and is answering my questions. I found God’s love and forgiveness in a people who have given up their lives and possessions, loneliness and strife, in order to follow Yahshua, the Son of God.
His people found my young family and me, and we left our homestead to come live in a community in Vermont. It’s been over eleven years and I’m learning to trust and respect my husband and to be a supportive wife. Because of this, my husband is being set free to be a caring and loving husband. We are learning how to communicate.
It is with great thankfulness that I can say that our daughters have chosen to follow us in this life. They are in their teen age years now, but they aren’t in the midst of drugs, sex and the confusion of searching for an identity. They aren’t lonely and alienated. Their life is vitally attached to ours. I have the relationship I have always longed for ... we are friends ... we can talk to each other. I know it’s what every parent longs for.
My life would have ended as the old woman’s in the story. I have helped as a medic on an ambulance and I have taken older people from their homes, never to return. My heart aches at the thought of the thousands of older people who are sent off to die alone. In not too many years I might have had the same lonely, miserable end. But instead I have real hope — hope for others of our generation who face the fear of death. There is a people on the earth who really love God with all their hearts. They live together and care for each other just as the Son of God would if He were on the earth today. His love is being seen on the earth and this demonstration will increase. Life is so short. I know I will never be left alone or put in a home. I will be cared for and given the same dignity as the older people who live among us now. I know this is our God’s hope for all of those who are searching for the end of loneliness.