One spring afternoon eleven years ago, I boarded the bus on my college campus.
Virginia in the spring is a promise of a hundred jubilant displays of beauty: red tulips against a weathered white garden door, dogwoods spreading lacy plumage along serpentine walls, the slant of afternoon gold on red-bricked colonial promenades.
I vaguely remember the swaying dance of komorebi — that welcome Japanese word for the winking of sunlight as it filters through tree leaves — along my walk to the bus stop. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to walk under archways of that dappled light, but on this day, even as I stood right beneath the trees, the komorebi was only a distant impression.
I was wrapped up in a problem that had come to my attention a few weeks earlier. Forgive me — I won’t mention specifics here, but it was the sort of problem whose rectification would cause a penalty to fall on people close to me. That afternoon, I put that penalty in motion, and what was more, I would be the one to break the news of its coming. My imagination ran wild on the bus as I pictured the hurt and betrayal on those familiar faces, and for a brief, flitting moment, the terror of utter loneliness gripped me.
And yet, something rose up in that moment to say, simply: No.
It was true that, in the worst outcome of the case, I might be left without support in every quarter. My life might move into an unrecognizable chapter. But, no: I realized I did not know the stark and solitary abandonment that was total loneliness. It was another who did, in my place. Later that week I jotted down those thoughts:
Even now as I pen the words I know that I will never fully comprehend it — the concept becomes so familiar in the story of Calvary — but He died that I should never feel such loneliness.
In the years since that bus ride, I’ve known different measures and concentrations of isolation: in postpartum depression, parental anxiety in the emergency room, and the general disorientation of a cross-country move. There was also a time, very long ago, that a deep-seated, fear-fed guilt whispered that I was past forgiveness and redemption.
But the silence of Gethsemane and of the cross on the hill reveal that I’ve never known what it is to be truly forsaken. And perhaps, until this moment, I’ve never recognized what Christ did to loneliness. As Donne says, out of His sacrifice “we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” Death and its power, crushed — but loneliness?
Loneliness has become our gift of grace.
For intimacy waits now where there should have been isolation. As dark as the days may become, the ears of heaven will never be shut to broken cries and tentative approaches. Pain begets it — exhaustion draws me into it — but loneliness is now and so often a merciful usher into the presence of God, there to be reminded of things I’ve forgotten. The blood of Christ, beading His brow in agony and cascading out of His side in death, transformed it into a gateway instead of a final clang of condemnation.
He died that I should never feel such loneliness as He felt.
And so I see how the world teems with overtures of His love instead. In the hope of a new morning after a night of weeping. In the laughter dimpling a baby’s face. In the sun fishtailing through the high boughs of elm and oak overhead, and even in every leaden moment of suffering that bids me view eternity with hope instead of denial. God-With-Us draws us in glory, in our rawest hurts, and in life to the full, always toward what lasts and fills better than our souls know to ask. His loneliness was taken up to redeem ours.
I clutched that truth that day, held onto it as the bus lurched through Grounds, and —
I dared to think it was no coincidence that it was Good Friday.