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peculiarities [Jan. 2nd, 2007|02:27 pm]
He was a most peculiar man
That's what Mrs. Reardon said
And she should know
She lived upstairs from him.
She said he was a most peculiar man.

So starts the song from Simon and Garfunkel. A peculiar kind of guy, doesn't talk much, and no one talks to him, because "he wasn't friendly, and he didn't care, and he wasn't like them".

If this was a happy song, they would be discussing whatever heroic act the peculiar man performed. Maybe he saw the thing that everyone missed, or he was the only person who truly had compassion for one of life's forgotten people. But it's not a happy song:

He died last Saturday
He turned on the gas
and he went to sleep
with the windows closed so he'd never wake up
to a silent world and his tiny room...

And it ends with "And all the people said, what a shame that he's dead, but wasn't he a most peculiar man?"

Partly because of my own experience, I imagine this song written from the perspective of those who just learned of his death. "Yeah, he didn't talk too much. Huh? Oh, no one talked to him. Nah, see, he wasn't, you know, friendly. He didn't care about nothing. He was, you know, peculiar. No, I don't mean a pervert, or crazy or nothing, he was just different."

A set of excuses, in other words, because it wasn't their fault that this poor, lonely guy died right in their midst. He didn't strike them as the right kind of person, so they wouldn't reach out, and his few attempts to reach out fell flat, so he saw no escape from the constant solitude, until he couldn't take it any more.

It's a sad story about how callous the world can be, and how terrible it is to be so isolated.

Taken one way, you can use it to scream at the world for practically killing him, or at least ignoring him and his pain until he died.

Except, what could they do? Keep their eyes open for every possibly lonely person out there, standing ready to smile and say "hi, it's good to see you"? Talk to every single person who might want to talk, even if they have no interest whatsoever in what that person has to say? Knock on every person's door around bedtime to make sure they're not about to kill themselves because of a soul crushing loneliness?

I'm not excusing the world; as a whole, the world can be incredibly callous and cruel, and people can be extremely judgmental about those who are different, both those who stand out, and those who don't.

But it's also equally true that the world is what it is, and if you don't force the world to pay attention to you, if you don't go out there and put yourself where people are, the world is more than willing to let your spirit be ground away with loneliness and solitude. There aren't any compassion corps who will go around visiting you just because you need friendly human contact. People won't spontaneously decide "I bet (soandso) is lonely" and try to make contact. You're only visible so long as you make yourself visible, and only noticed as far as you give people a chance to notice you.

While it took callousness to cause our Peculiar Man to sink into despair, there was only one person who had any chance of ending his solitude, and that was him. He had to find out why people found him peculiar, and why they thought he wasn't friendly. He had to find people who would accept him, or find a way to be himself, without driving people away.

Maybe it's not fair; maybe it's unjust. Maybe he's just quiet kind of fellow who is really nice, but just doesn't know how to forge connections. Maybe it's all but impossible for him to obtain the friendly human contact he needs.

All of those things could be true, but it doesn't change the simple fact of the matter: no one else can do these things for him. No one else knows what he needs; no one else can feel his pain; no one has unlimited time and resources to stop whatever else they're doing and help a peculiar man do a little socializing.

As much as the song describes how callous the world can be, it also lays out the risk to those who are lonely. No one will cure this for you; somehow, you have to find the answer on your own.

[User Picture]From: kightp
2007-01-03 12:36 am (UTC)
Just so. And perhaps more pertinent than usual if you're going to find yourself working at home now.

(You know, of course, that I'm biting back a big ol' impulse to say "Move down here! instant social circles! gamers and geeks! theater people!")
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[User Picture]From: glinda_w
2007-01-03 01:02 am (UTC)
noooooo! (*grin*)

it *does* make sense...
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[User Picture]From: kightp
2007-01-03 03:06 am (UTC)
Well, it makes sense to *me* ... (-:

... but lonely people can be just as lonely even when transplanted to highly social settings; the work still has to be done.
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[User Picture]From: ruth_lawrence
2007-01-03 01:10 am (UTC)
I kinda realised this myself a few years back.

Thanks for posting this :-)
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[User Picture]From: wordweaverlynn
2007-01-03 02:12 am (UTC)
At least Eleanor Rigby went to church.

Good essay. I'm not working now, and one of the things I have to fight is my tendency to withdraw into my shell. I'm scheduling social activities -- and I'll make myself go out and do them.
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[User Picture]From: beaq
2007-01-03 07:38 am (UTC)
Thanks for taking it that direction. I was gonna *say*. But then you did, and with a great deal more detail and coherence than I usually manage.
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[User Picture]From: pernishus
2007-01-03 11:11 am (UTC)
Good advice. What else, after all, can one say to such a person (if one is not inspired to be whatever he or she is seeking) except "Good luck, keep looking; I'm not it, and, given the limits of my own resources, I haven't the time for you, but I will experience a twinge of regret if I hear you're gone"?

It has, at least, the property of being true.
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[User Picture]From: ljgeoff
2007-01-03 02:09 pm (UTC)
Yes -- I was nodding all the way through. "...there was only one person who had any chance of ending his solitude..."
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[User Picture]From: droops
2007-01-03 07:07 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought of that song in years. Interesting and, as you say, sad. Thanks for the memory, and the reminder to get out and see more folks.
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