{A time of reflection and perhaps contemplation}
[different from the questioning &/or pondering epistles]

P.S. I realize this is a day late – it’s actually two weeks late as I have been working on this conversation now since the beginning of March, after some solo rides in the chairs of the Apex Mountain Resort. Hopefully in the future I will get the timing right…

Today’s Theme: Do We Stay the Word LOVE Enough?

Leo Buscaglia, PhD – of him I have been a big fan. Glenn W. Sinclair, PhD – of him sometimes it is more a conundrum.

Leo was a big supporter of love – I read his three biggest sellers: Bus 9 to Paradise, Born For Love (Reflections on Loving) and Living, Loving & Learning back in the early eighties and I also watched a couple of TV specials wherein he was the central feature. I then began to work on a plan to bring him to Saskatchewan for a major gathering of Aboriginal leadership and staff from Indian Affairs. I felt it was a necessary step in the devolution of control, at least in the field of education (of which I was leading at the time); and, while many of the long time civil servants were skeptical, I had the backing of the Regional Director General. Then Leo died and the planning stopped.

At that time my beyond the daily scope of work time was primarily devoted to helping congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) become more welcoming while also helping more individuals get beyond their sense of loneliness. Due to my own rather inept efforts at love and relationship, I tended to stay away from that word love in my dealings with others. From the earliest days in college, whenever I encountered someone I sensed was lonely, I would try to be very upbeat in their presence and create scenarios of potential success. My thinking was that if they were more willing to welcome potential success they would get beyond their state of loneliness. I never saw this as a potential indicator of depression.

Throughout all this early professional life, I was acutely aware of the difference between being alone and loneliness. Being an introvert I craved the opportunity to be alone. My company was small and staff changed with every project. I certainly tried to include my team in the decision-making around the project, but as for my own thoughts & feelings I was extremely close to the vest. I played golf and biked by myself and usually went skiing by myself (on the rare occasion where I was with others, it was usually with my own children). More often than not, I travelled by myself (usually in business class where conversation could be quite limited, usually only about business). Even in my voluntary role as an interim lay minister I tended to leave the pastoral duties to the Interim Moderator and I focused on the Sunday sermons, very seldom leading a funeral service and hardly ever even socializing with other members of Presbytery. Yet, I never felt lonely.

Leo’s books though did get me thinking. I became aware that I probably didn’t know love very well and therefore did not practice it or try to promote it in the most effective and/or lasing ways. Obviously some of my colleagues sensed this for I was encouraged (through direct gifts of the actual books) to read The Positive Power of Praising People by Twentier and Gail Sheehy’s Pathfinders among others. But as my vocational life continued to be successful, I think I saw my world as successful as long as I produced good work and whenever I could, I tried to help the lonely. Relationally I also was spared long-term issues as I moved frequently, often more than once in any three year period. The only hiccup happened in the mid-eighties when my first ex suggested I read a book on executive burnout – perhaps due to something the kids had said, or maybe a minister had observed. I did, and immediately took my father on a trip to Scotland to visit some ancestral locations. The trip was fine (although I could have done it on my own just as well)’ but, shortly after I returned, I was right back working 24/7…but I wasn’t lonely and I didn’t see burnout as a sign or link to depression.

It was likely in the early nineties (maybe late eighties – the time is a bit fuzzy now) that I first consciously confronted the question of a person needing to hear the word love. A colleague mentioned a friend who was struggling with depression and was constantly asked if he loved him. I suggested he read at least one of Leo’s books and he might have a better sense of how to respond to the question. Ironically though, I did not think this was a case of loneliness so I didn’t see how I could be of any more help – he wasn’t my friend and I just wanted to remain alone and uninvolved. Shortly thereafter though, I began to slip into a state of being I really couldn’t explain, let alone understand. It wasn’t really loneliness, although that seemed to be at least somewhat tangential.

The first thing I noticed when I reflect back, was that I sensed I wasn’t loved. No one was telling me that I was loved. What was even more strange, I wasn’t believing I was validated in what I was doing (let alone in what I was accomplishing). I still preferred being alone, being on my own, but where was that feeling that I hadn’t previously thought about – it was just there, I guess. Now it wasn’t. I won’t go into the details nor point fingers at anyone, because it may just have been that I was becoming more and more unlovable. My alone-ness may have become overbearing or too demanding. The fact is that by the mid-nineties I was falling and by the turn of the millennium I was in a very dark valley. I wasn’t even being very helpful to those who were lonely and even less responsive to those who were needy.

The was a theological conference at Austin Theological Seminary (University of Texas) where I began to realize that simply the mention of the word love was comforting. Much of what Leo had said twenty years earlier made so much more sense. Subsequently, a fellow attendee decided to change careers and attend Princeton Theological Seminary, probably the top theological college for Presbyterians in North America. It was not an easy slog: older, female and street smart from her previous career, she was an anathema to the young, bright male theologs. She called one evening to tell of her trials and tribulations – I listened and at the end of the call innocently said, just know that you are loved. This seemed to exhilarate her.
She emailed afterwards and thanked me. We had a number of phone conversations over the next three years. I was even attended a theological conference at Princeton and was able to have dinner whereat I sensed she was not so lonely as perhaps, like me, fighting a bit of depression. I told her she was significant and important to the evolving church and that I would always love her for that. We never saw each other again, nor did we talk again. Though I did get a thank you note for the love I shared, when she graduated.

As I struggled to climb out of the darkness, I searched for some semblance of sure-footedness. I would take a step forward and then fall a couple steps back. My brain was not consistent in any of its functioning and love definitely was absent. At the same time a couple of colleagues were going through difficult times and when I occasionally touched base with them, I would make sure I said at some point that I loved them or that they should know that they were loved. While it seemed to help them, I never had any reciprocal feedback. Finally I met a person who did in fact say the word, often (and still does). It was only then that I truly began to get back on my feet so to speak, to become content with myself and competent in my thinking.

As a result, I believe I came to a clearer understanding of the potential for loneliness to lead into depression while recognizing that alone-ness was a much different thing. This was something that became more real when I was confirmed to have ADHD in addition to my strong trait of introversion. My alone-ness was something that I have always had and I continue to cherish that about myself. I still like the solitary times, whether in recreation or in my study or on the road or in the air. I am not sure that I can help it, because I am not convinced I really would want to try to significantly alter it. Doesn’t mean I don’t love. Doesn’t mean I can’t stand other people. It just means that there are times when my alone-ness is special and very much me.

As I awakened to the importance of love, well beyond marital or familial, I began to significantly shift away from focusing on loneliness in others and more to the possibilities that words like boredom, friendlessness, lostness might be indicators of the edges of depression. Maybe by using the word love, by encouraging others to realize they were loved and thus were lovable, they could avoid entering a period of darkness. Several of my friends and colleagues had died and I began to occasionally check in on their widows, almost always by phone. Conversations could be lengthy or they could be sort of moderately brief, but I always made sure that at some point they were told that they were loved. As others also lost either partners or positions or even children I made sure not to enquire as to whether they were lonely, but rather highlight the good things in their on-going lives that suggested to me that they were loved. I would even say on occasion that I loved them for their courage, steadfastness and being in the world. The pandemic increased the numbers and diversity of conversations, the advent of ZOOM expanded the ability to have certain face-to-face interactions. Since then, I have relied on a variety of communications: letters, e-mails, texts, phone conversations & ZOOM chats – different ones at times for different people.

As Leo would say, love creates an US without destroying a ME. Furthermore, one of his insights I have always cherished: Love enhances, it does not degrade. Love builds self-esteem, it does not diminish it. Doubtless it took my own fall into darkness to fully grasped what he was driving at – we need love all around us, and we should not be afraid to share it as much as possible. Each loving moment will not endanger other loving moments. Each person we share love with, we do so in a way that is unique. There are even gradients to the degree and extent of the love we share. The key is that we must not be afraid to say it, to share it, to make the other feel they are significant enough to be loved. I love you does not mean I want to marry you or that you are the only person I can feel love for. I love you means that you are a significant person in the world, significant to those around you, significant to me. Therefore to say you are loved is to say that I want you in the world, and the world is better because you are in it.

In reflection,