Just before Christmas, BBC Television asked me to share my experiences. It will help others struggling to find meaning in their lives at the end of the worst year we’ve had to endure they said.
What disturbed me most during Covid was experiencing a desperate loneliness, especially at night.
When I could, I took short walks in the woods. Those walks saved my sanity.
Surprisingly, I completely lost the ability to pray in my usual way. Eventually I just had to accept it.
During the walks in the wood, I allowed God to speak to me. I simply listened.
The beauty of nature, the fresh air, the peace and calm all around – creation prayed with me. It was the most comforting and the most real prayer I’ve ever experienced.
I learned it is how I handle the pressures of life that determines the effect they will have on my mood.
Loneliness in this life is inevitable; it’s part of the human condition. We have a choice.
We can succumb to self-pity and let it destroy us or we can try to learn the value of genuine inner strength from the experience. I can learn to be at peace in my own company.
From my experience as a priest and as a human being I believe loneliness is the last great, unspoken taboo in our society. Some say it too is a public health crisis.
It’s a crisis that properly handled can actually present us with a unique opportunity to build a compassionate, kinder and less divisive society.
Loneliness does not discriminate between young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural. During this Covid crisis loneliness is reaching epidemic levels.
A doctor I know constantly tells me that the impact of loneliness is as harmful to my general health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness has to be faced honestly. This can begin in simple ways. Put simply, we can beat loneliness one conversation at a time.
Ironically, we have more opportunities to connect through technology now.
Yet people are lonelier than ever. The importance of personal contact with others cannot be replaced by technology alone. It’s hard to hug a phone, but every way of connecting matters when Covid keeps us apart.
Research shows that up to 75% of older people in the western world are lonely, yet most of us have never dared admit it to family or friends. In fact only 22% of us do NOT feel lonely.
When loneliness arrives uninvited, I have to work hard at developing real human friendships.
I need to accept it’s not what others think of me, it’s what I think of myself that counts.
The philosopher Blaise Pascal had a point when he said: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”