Why does it feel so lonely here?6 min read

In every corner of life around me here, I perceive life being lived in isolation. I asked myself, "Why do I feel this way?" Living in Switzerland after spending my whole life in Egypt, I often find it very lonely.

I find myself often making a rather peculiar judgement when I occasionaly glimpse the neighbours in their balcony having dinner just the two of them, or when I see a mother pushing her baby in a stroller to the supermarket – An old person pulling a shopping bag on wheels…

I ask myself, what is it like to live in isolation? Clearly I am aware that these people are not totally isolated; they have families and friends, partners or spouses, also children and grandchildren.

But they do seem to me in some sense isolated. For the biggest part of their day, I am under the impression that they go about their lives individually. I don’t get this feeling when I am in Spain staying at my in-laws, certainly not in Egypt, but I also do not have the same impression in Thailand for example but I do get it in Germany.

As a mother of young children it used to make me feel sad, watching all these people. I wondered why I had this feeling and why it made me so sad?

I asked myself, why is it that I feel more alive in Egypt, despite the dirt, the stress, the difficulty and even the ugliness around me. Of course it is my home (although Switzerland is also home now).

I realised that in Egypt and in some other similar places like the ones I mentioned, in every interaction with another, I feel it’s personal – even the unpleasant ones. Every time I come in touch with another human being, whether to buy something or to complain – even queuing in Egypt involves a personal socialising quality. An exchange takes place between me and whomever I am interacting with where we share something – we communicate as people and not only as our role or function dictates us to be.

Whereas, here, every interaction is reduced to the function of that interaction so much that it is void of my person. I am a buyer, an inquirer seeking information about a specific issue or with a specific question, or I am a passenger, he or she is a cashier, waiter, postman….etc

It hit me that the sum of those moments is my day.
The sum of the days is the year.
And my life is the sum of these years.

We all have things to do for the most part of every day. We have jobs, we run errands, we order things, we stand in queues… If we spend the bulk of it focused on the function, on the specific goal regardless of how tiny it is, then we waste an awful lot of time…of life.

I was listening to Helen Mirren giving a commencement address to a graduating class in some US university. She was giving them her life wisdom in the form of a number of do’s and don’ts. The second or 3rd point she started by saying, “Treat every one as a person.” At first I thought how cliche. But then she proceeded with an anecdote from a few decades back, when she was with a close friend of hers in the back of a car with a driver. Her friend was going to light a cigarette, but she first offered the driver one. Now of course Mirren did not miss on the humorous opportunity to point out that those were different times when smoking was still not the homicide act it is now, and so if it were today, her friend would probably be charged with attempted murder- but that is another topic. Any how she explained that what struck her was how the driver, to her friend, was not just the driver but a person…who might or might not smoke.

At that moment it struck me that if we extend this idea from representations to interactions and treat every interaction as a personal one – not just everyone as a person (not a role – a function), then we would improve the quality of those interactions that make up the bulk of our days. A little less machine…more person.

This taps into the idea that one must try to live every moment – every act – for what it is, not only for what it will bring. This way we do not waste a whole lot of our lives. And also because only the present is guaranteed. How many times do we read that those who died this morning had plans for today, or along those lines? Yet we do not read so deep into them. And of-course we do need to plan.  And there is no escape from having some future orientation -but we can choose to which extent. It is a always a trade-off. We weigh what we want now against what we want later. We decide which is more important, we do this automatically and intuitively and it is different with everything. That is what we do anyway. That is how we design our lives. We study now so we can be qualified later. So that later we can choose what we do with our lives. We do not eat everything we desire because we want to be fit and feel good later. We suffer during sports and doing fitness because it makes us feel better after. It makes perfect sense for all those cases. But not all cases and not all our activities fit the same way into this reasoning.
If we lose the present repeatedly for a future goal – for a moment in the future when we will be happy, then we are sacrificing everyday for a future that might not come.

It is the same as the day.
We lose every day.

If I think that I work now during the week so I have fun on Saturday when it is weekend, and if I’m working everyday, then everyday I should just work, as in switch off my person mode to work mode. I interact with my colleagues as coworkers, my clients as only clients, the person who cleans the coffee machine as a janitor- then the bulk of my interactions is not personal – but functional.

It certainly is neither sensible nor attainable to seek joy in every interaction. And it is not my goal to make every moment more joyful – but more personal.  It is not reasonable to expect all my interactions to be deeply personal either. But just the flavour of personal interaction adds a quality to the moments of a day, that makes life – in my view – all the more meaningful. And a tiny less wasted.
Less lonely !

Back to Homepage