Loneliness comes in many forms. James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything tells a few stories of loneliness – Stephen Hawkings’, Jane Hawkings, and Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Jonathan – choir director, family helper, and the man who became Jane’s second husband – captures vividly what can become loneliness’ black hole when he says: “I suffer from the tyranny of an empty room.” Tyranny is a good word for the emotional emptiness that grabs hold and won’t let go. The emptiness that comes from deep losses of various kinds, that settles into your bones and seems never to let up. Sometimes the tyranny of loneliness becomes a grey resignation, a “making do”. Worse, a loss of hope where the black hole of emptiness is unfathomably deep, where time and space slow to a stop.
Empty Rooms of Loneliness in Theory of Everything
Empty rooms overshadow Stephen, Jane, and Jonathan’s lives. For Jonathan, facing life without the wife he’s lost. For Jane, the empty rooms of a marriage that requires more of her than given in return. For Stephen, the deprivation of normal pleasures he can’t expect anymore because of a disabling illness. These three don’t, though, fall too far into a black hole of hopelessness. Each has resiliencies and ways of coping. Coping is important, of course. And, we all cope with loneliness in our own ways. Some methods work better than others.
Ways of Coping With Loneliness
Jonathan does service – for the church and the Hawkings family. He gives to other people what he doesn’t have. He also has his music. These aren’t enough. He has his own emotional needs and falls in love with Jane. When he can’t have her, he’s self-protective enough to walk away. Yet, this doesn’t solve his loneliness.
Jane, too, manages by giving – with devotion and love for Stephen and her family. After a while, this giving takes its toll. She begins to wear out. Stops expecting very much is less spirited, less emotionally open; less hopeful about the love she thought would overcome all. There’s too much missing, but she can’t allow herself to really consider wanting more. Until Stephen, in his own way, let her go.
Stephen has his mind. Although trapped in his body, ALS doesn’t rob him of that. With this brilliant mind, he tackles questions about the nature of Time, whether or not God exists, what is at the core of a black hole? These questions are driven by his brilliance as a physicist. But, his concerns are also personal. How much time does he have? What is the nature of the time he has left? Is there any hope? In what might become a black hole of despair, can he salvage any meaning? Although a lot is sacrificed in these unavoidable preoccupations (perhaps his marriage) … he does.
What’s The Answer To Loneliness?
If there is a theory of everything – is there an answer to loneliness? Hope is an essential ingredient. Yet, sometimes and for some, hope is hard to find. Most difficult if you turn away from human connection, tell yourself you don’t need anyone; lose faith in love and mostly in yourself. That makes for the blackest holes of loneliness. And, that is the time for help.
The kind of help that resolves self-doubt and turns around the belief there is nothing left. The kind that restores a sense of purpose, opens up pathways to human need and connection and brings back a belief in love. The Theory of Everything tells us quite a bit about human resiliency. Change can occur and help is possible when the road is hard.
In that blackest of difficult times, the worst tyranny of loneliness is a voice inside that predicts hopelessness – that says love is impossible, that it’s better not to risk disappointment or hurt. It’s important to be reminded again and again of Stephen Hawkings’ most important psychological discovery: “Where there is life there is hope” – if you don’t give up on what you want and need.