Some mornings I wake up feeling six kinds of crazy and twenty kinds of lonely.
There’s an old song that Don Mclean wrote about Vincent Van Gogh that has the verse:
“Now, I understand, what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity . . .”
And the truth is that there are a lot of us out here who, “suffer for our sanity.” We live through dark times, alone times, times when we’re so depressed, so far down emotionally and spiritually and energetically, that the pistol to the head, the bottle of pills, the fifth of whiskey calls out to us like the sweet voices of the Sirens. “Come here, baby; let me wrap my gentle arms around you and we’ll just be so peaceful and sweet and the pain will stop.”
For the most part, most of us survive. We don’t take that path that Vincent walked down, we cling to our lives and our dreams, and we keep trying, even though we feel six kinds of crazy and twenty kinds of lonely. We don’t embrace the Siren’s gentle arms and drift off into forever.
Many of us become highly adept at hiding our pain in plain sight. We’re the funny ones, the comedians, the people who are always laughing, many times at ourselves and the sense that our lives are ridiculous. Remember when Robin Williams killed himself and so many people were shocked? “What? Robin Williams? How can that be? He was always kidding, always joking. Why would he kill himself?”
Six kinds of lonely and twenty kinds of crazy. That’s why he killed himself. To those of us who live out here on the fringe, it was no surprise at all because we recognized him as one of us. In his senior album at Redwood High School he was voted both, “the funniest,” graduate and the graduate, “who is most likely NOT to succeed.”
That speaks volumes to those who can hear. Yes, we like him, but, man, he is NOT one of us.
The Five of Pentacles has always struck that same chord for me. The two beggars are, above all else, outsiders. They struggle along in the snow storm, crippled, wrapped in rags, while behind them a joyous light shines through a church window. One imagines the parishioners inside: fat, happy, warm, singing songs of praise to Jesus, not even aware of the people outside their window who are, “suffering for their sanity.”
They are NOT one of us. They don’t belong. They are Out Siders. Literally.
If you’re six kinds of lonely and twenty kinds of crazy, that’s probably a big part of your reality. You don’t belong. You’re not part of the group. You don’t fit, “in.” That’s certainly been my experience. I’m in my late sixties and I still feel as profoundly isolated as I did when I was a kid.
So how do we deal with that? If we are really and truly the odd ducks, the square pegs that don’t fit in the round holes, the crazy outsiders who don’t have a place in the herd, how do we NOT stumble into the same endings as Robin and Vincent?
I think that a good beginning is to just HONOR our weirdness. And I really mean, “honor,” it. Robin Williams and VIncent Van Gogh were worth a million – no, two million – bank executives and lawyers and accountants and other very, very successful people.
Why? Precisely because they WERE outsiders. They saw the world differently and they held up a mirror or a canvas and they said, “Look! Can you see it? Can you see the way it looks to me? Can you see the starry night? Can you see how funny and amazing all of this is?”
Being alone is HARD, man. Many people have been touched by that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, during this pandemic. Being physically alone, not being touched, not being hugged, and loved and cherished – it’s all hard. But being alone for all of your life, feeling like you’re always on the outside of that church window looking in . . . that’s the hardest. That’s twenty kinds of lonely, if you let it be. That’s six kinds of crazy, if you let it be.
The Hermit is very much alone. He stands aside from the rest of society but he also holds up a shining lamp in the darkness. He honors who he is, and he realizes that his wisdom is a gift to the world. Make no mistake about it, though: he’s been lonely and he’s been crazy and he’s suffered for his sanity, but he won through in the end. It’s just a path that some of us have to walk.