Alone, alone, all, all, alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
These words were first written over 200 years ago by the great Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his epic ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Lots about the world and how we live has changed since it was written and yet people say they are lonelier than ever before: feeling alone and lost.
And it’s not just the poets who are saying it. It’s a song that we hear frequently from pop artists all the way down from Roy Orbison (Only the Lonely) down to Chris Brown (Lonely).
And we hear that increasing numbers of adults, of all ages and at all stages of life, are living alone. But it seems to be more than just about who we do or do not share a place with.
It’s a deeper sense of disconnectedness: of not being listened to; of not being heard; of not being understood. Strangely, the frenetic way in which we communicate with one another through email and social media doesn’t seem to make it any better either.
We more in touch, yet it seems to make the sense of loneliness worse: increasing the gulf between us and others, and between our life and the lives of others: the sea feels like it’s getting wider all the time.
Now religious communities and community organisations aren’t perfect; they are full of lots of imperfect people after all. But, at their best, one of the things they try to work out is how we can do life together in ways that help us to deepen our connections with one another and with those we live around.
Like families at their best, when they are working well they provide space to celebrate joys and to support one another through distress. And they are also places where we are helped to grow and develop as some of our edges get knocked off and as we learn from and are inspired by each other.
To be in a place where you are known and yet also loved, warts and all, is a wonderful thing.
Maybe as you read this you are wondering if there is something you can become part of. I am sure there is. Look out for notices in shops and surgeries.
It can be a struggle to go for the first time but there will be people looking out for new arrivals and usually, after a couple of sessions, people don’t regret having made the effort to go along.
Of course, even the small things can make a difference. The other day I was standing at the church door shaking someone’s hand and they said, ‘You know, church is the only time in a week when I physically touch another human being.’
A friend of mine stands in a city centre down south every week with a board advertising ‘Free Hugs’. He sometimes has a queue.
That’s a bit drastic and certainly not my style, but even a couple of words or a simple gesture as a way of greeting another person can make a difference to someone’s day.
And like my friend’s hugs it doesn’t cost us anything. People often say Yorkshire folk are friendly folk. Well then, we have a head start!
Let’s take this seriously, and work together to drain that sea of loneliness that separates us from one another and instead flood our communities with love, kindness and compassion.
The Reverend Canon Sam Corley is the Rector of Leeds