Is there a stronger human emotion than loneliness? Or is emotion not the right word; mechanism, condition, fault, component, downside? It is the one constant we are always striving against, even if it isn't in those terms. We do not want to be homeless, alone on the street somewhere begging for money from a group of people totally and completely disconnected from us. We pick which colleges to go to, the good ole' vessels for our future, based on the sizes of student population, determined to find out which one we would fit best in. We drunkenly hook up with one another because we want the carnal experience, sure, but it isn't a terrible feeling to sleep with the comfort of someone directly next to you.
Is there a more palpable sense in the repertoire of humanity? Pain is a feeling to extreme to contemplate; you simply feel it in varying degrees. In a lot of pain, you never stop screaming to ponder, "in what ways did I bring this pain on to me, and what is the best possible means to alleviate myself of this stigma?" Your brain is wired on instinct to help yourself (in most cases, get to a hospital). Grief is something that can overcome all rational thought, shutting down your cognitive because it cannot function when it's submerged so deep in sorrow and tears. You never think "why am I so sad?" when a loved one passes away, you simply are and we accept that fact. If you're happy, there is never a point where you try and analyze the function that causes your happiness. Oh, I found five dollars in my pocket, but why is my mouth all stretched out? Technically you broke even with yourself, but notching a +5 in your mental bank accounts just feels better.
Loneliness is unique because it is a feeling that can be seen in almost all feelings. You can be sorrowful because you are lonesome, can exacerbate pain because there is no one to aid you, and the sheer avoidance of the state can lead to happiness on its own, even if the time you had with people is lackluster. It can certainly damper your mood, alter your state of mind, inhibit your actions...hell, if it made you crash a car it would probably be illegal to take across state lines.
Yet it is the unique problem that we all suffer from, across the board, in every part of the globe, within every last shred of humanity. They even pulled it off with a robot in the brilliant Wall-E. That movie works in the most basic way because while it is an animated robot from the future, he deals with a constant in our lives and is instantly relatable, no matter the vessel in which the message is delivered (or trash compacted).
If the universal language is music, then all the solos exist because of loneliness. It is the condition that drives at least a quarter Beatles songs. It is the mechanism for terrible social and romantic ideas. It makes watching movies in the theaters more enjoyable because it is avoided. It makes attending sporting events better because you can high five someone other than yourself.
I have never felt more boxed in then being back at home after college. There is a clear divide that occurs almost immediately after you receive your diploma (or, in my case, a diploma holder with nothing in it until you have to retrieve it on your own the next day). Like a light switch being flicked up, suddenly you are an adult. You cannot relate to anyone under the age of 21 in the same way again. Ostensibly, your childhood is over. The 16+ years of schooling have been preparation, one grade after another, for this moment, where you are thrust into the adult world. But this is common knowledge.
What isn't--or at least wasn't to me--is the post-college experience of living at home. My work schedule doesn't match some of my best friends’. It doesn't even match some of my not-so-good friends. Yesterday, I had to put my car in the shop and my mom wasn't answering her cell phone, so I figured I'd just call someone else. As I'm walking down the street carrying a trumpet case and listening to an iPod on a road that is not designed for foot travel (don’t ask), it dawned on me that I had no one to immediately call. If I were in Boston in March, there are tons of numbers to call of people who are a mile or so away that could quickly come to my aid. Now, I have friends at jobs on Wall Street who I'm lucky to see once every weekend. I have friends going to Europe for years on end. I have friends who I know simply wouldn't pick up the phone.
By no means is this meant to lament my stasis, to "woe is me" until I'm crying to Dashboard Confessional. Instead, I think I'm hitting on a great irony. After years of being told "Michael, all your classmates feel this way," I'm taking a step out onto the ledge. My entire grade that is home right now mostly sits at home, bored, waiting for someone to talk to or call, yet we don't have the gumption to do anything about it because we don't know where the hell we are, let alone anyone else. You can't walk down the street and run into people; you see them briefly on a road as you both shoot by in cars, gaining a simple moment of acknowledgment, a thought of "I never see him/her/them" glances by just as quickly as the moment. Here we are, all of us, a group separate, but oh so connected in a most vital way.
And we're too alone to even realize it.