The Forgotten Ones

It’s very hard to be useful.

The Winter Holidays time is – so they say – a period chiefly described by what the Germans call Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl. This word – or concept – is translated in English by a feeling of togetherness and belonging, a shared spirit, a feeling of solidarity or communion. It’s the time when people often come together under the same roof, when connections are made or strengthened, and when we make that slightly-weird once-in-a-year phone call, or write that – again, once-in-a-year – email or Messenger/WhatsApp text to people that matter close-to-naught to you, yet personal interest or politeness obliges. This entire period is often loaded with hollowness and fakeness, when it’s not an utter void altogether.

In 2013, in Rotterdam – the Netherlands – the corpse of a 74-year-old woman has been found in an apartment. Her daughter hadn’t seen her for 20 years because she was an unwanted child and their relationship was burdened by conflict and finally indifference. The main problem was however that the body of the woman was found… 10 years after her physical death. Her taxes were automatically collected from her bank account and she didn’t maintain connections with anyone. By consequence, nobody noticed her death for a period of 10 years. Ten years is roughly 3652 days. That’s 3652 days when nobody cared if that woman was dead or alive… The authorities became aware of her death when her gas pipes needed replacement and she didn’t answer the door. The entire country – if not the entire world – was shocked by this story.

This was in 2013, 10 years ago. And the world of 10 years ago is quite different from the one of today, as there are many more old people and the loneliness is definitely higher, judging by the cynicism I see online but also in the real life…

I would ask you to ponder a bit on the quote at the beginning of the article: To whom are you still useful? Do you still matter to someone, in cynical or objective (that is, not emotional) terms?

Who needs you?

If you read my blog – if you have nothing better to do or you have time to lose on the internet during this period of the year – chances are you’re not so social or you have plenty of time on your hands. Most people are with their families right now, too busy with preparations for Christmas and the New Year. So, since we are here, we could start to contemplate the story and the questions above, and perhaps realize that there are so many people out there – hidden or unseen – who live lives of quiet desperation, trapped in a crushing loneliness and gradually approaching physical death, being socially and emotionally dead long time ago… For them, this period of the year – conclusive as it is – is the hardest of all. It’s the time when you draw the line and ask yourself tough questions about your life, your worth and if you missed your targets or not. If you feel loneliness, rest assured that you definitely missed some of your targets, as it’s one thing to be alone (and enjoying it) and a completely different thing to feel lonely (and totally hating it)…

If you feel lonesome, it might definitely be your fault, although an emotionally deprived education can also be blamed on your parents or parental figures. If you are not needed it’s often because you didn’t find a use for yourself or you didn’t know how to make or maintain connections. Or you had different priorities… or expectations… or standards… But, as the quote at the beginning of the article says, it is difficult to be useful. And it is also true (and sad) that the present world is highly autistic, especially in the West: it’s the price for the scientific and technological progress, for the excessive competition, it’s too much of a shift to the extreme of utility, while putting less emphasis on the realm of empathy, compassion and closeness. The problem of loneliness is a complex issue. And a cure is not in sight… not in the current state of the Western society…

The end of the year is a time of new resolutions. You will probably give that forsaken once-in-a-year call to those you haven’t spoken to – it’s a habit and it makes you feel a good person, as pretending to care feeds your ego. But perhaps you can move a little further and find a utility for that lonely and discarded person (everyone knows at least one) in your future-plans for the next year. You don’t have to do this if you believe that someone is unworthy of your helping hand. You don’t have to do it because it’s Christmas or because you feel guilty or ashamed; remember that most people end up in loneliness because of themselves and their mistakes, or because they have hurt the others who have isolated them, so don’t feel forced or compelled… or indebted… to do anything if you don’t feel like doing it. But if life happened too fast for you during the last months or years, if you had to prioritize other things and people, if you simply forgot dear people who now lie in irrelevance for you, now it’s a good time to voluntarily reconnect. It is my belief that nobody who is truly lonely can get out of loneliness through their own forces; they need to be helped from the exterior by people feeling compassion, able to empathize – or identify – with them.

Make that move – if you feel like doing it – today!


Romanian version of this article – Cei Uitați – here.