I recently finished reading the Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley. 5 stars, really. I sped through it, finding it perfectly delightful and just everything I want a novel to be (shout out to my friend Denise – your book recommendations are top notch).

The basic premise of the book is of a man, nearing the end of his life, who writes about his loneliness and regrets in a notebook. He leaves the book in a café, with a charge to the finder to tell their story and then pass it on. The world is full of inauthenticity, he says. What if you told the truth? What if the people around you really knew who you were (and vice versa) – how would things change?

And so, the finder writes her story and leaves it somewhere else, and the subsequent finders’ lives becomes intertwined in an improbable but charming and hopeful way.

I guess I liked the book so much because, I, too, am lonely.

No one really wants to hear that, and I don’t blame them. I go to social media (less and less these days…) and entertainment to make me feel better, not worse. I have enough of my own misery that I don’t particularly want to read or see someone else’s.

But, if the truth is what sets us free; or if our stories can help other people find hope in their own; or if there is community in being authentic – well, I guess it’s worth a shot.

DC has been tough on me, y’all. As some of you may know, I moved to the city for work – but, I also knew a man here who I was convinced was The One. I was certain that as soon as I arrived, we were going to begin our journey into the sunset together.

Only, that did not happen. In fact, 3 days before I moved, he told me he was dating someone who he thought was probably going to be his wife (the timing of all of this is quite suspicious, but that’s a story for another post). Fast forward a year and three months and she was, in fact, his wife.

In addition, my job – the reason I’d moved here – was not at all what I was expecting, and I spent much of those first two months crying and/or drinking wine.

Then – a global pandemic hit. Actually, quarantine was initially a blessing for me, as it allowed me to work from home and reduced my load enough to actually catch up on the mountain of things that had been left for me. I had a group of friends who stuck together throughout most of the year; I think we all really needed each other. I could walk to restaurants and grocery stores. I was grateful to be in this area during the height of the pandemic.

But as 2021 started, things changed. My friends dispersed due to new relationships, changes in Covid restrictions, and just life. We didn’t really need the group as much anymore. Or they didn’t.

My workload decreased further, mostly because, well, I’m efficient. That guy got engaged. I was bored most of the time and tired of my own company, and my reading selections were books about midlife crises and how to be happy.

Then, I went on my trip which was so amazing. And I met a man in Montana, who was also really great. For 3 months after my trip, I wasn’t lonely. I had something to look forward to each day – something that promised to make me smile and someone to talk to, even if he was 2,000 miles away. Everything (and I do mean everything) else in my life was stressful, but at least I had him.

But, as I’m sure you can tell from the direction of this post, that did not work out. It was almost Virgin River (for those of you who watch the show – this guy owned a small town bar I visited along my way), but we just didn’t quite make it to the Hallmark ending.

When that relationship ended, I was so sad. Sad because I liked him, of course, but also sad because with him went my hope for getting out of my rut and out of this city. Now I was back to not knowing where to go and not having much of anything to look forward to except my morning walks and my visits with my chiropractor (for long-time readers, it’s not what you think. First of all, she’s a she. And second of all, everyone is just super nice there. They call me by name and ask what I’m doing over the weekend).

I recently read something about how important human touch is to our emotional well-being, and I started thinking about it. Depending on the week, I might hug or pat two or three people – in the Southern, polite way. I don’t know if that counts. But, aside from that, there just isn’t anyone around to touch. (Another reason I like my chiropractor – she may just be cracking my back, but I’ll take what I can get (and I always cross my fingers for the days when she “prescribes” me a short massage).)

I absolutely abhor dating here. Abhor is a strong word, but it’s the most fitting one. Maybe I’m just getting old, and this would have inevitably happened to me anywhere. Maybe the pool in this area really is as bad as it seems. But, I used to try to fill lonely times by going on dates – hope always springing eternal. Now, I can’t even muster the energy to swipe on an app.

I’ve started going to a new church, and everyone is friendly there, which is nice. But, I’m having trouble finding the motivation to make new friends here since I’ve mentally given up on the city. Does that make me a failure, I wonder? Did I let DC eat me alive? Should I stick it out longer, in hopes that when it’s back to “normal” (whenever that is), maybe it’ll be better?

I’ve been pondering the phrase “the dark night of the soul.” I thought it was something my dad just said, but apparently, it’s a quite common phrase originating in a 16th century Catholic poem. It refers to a period of depression, specifically spiritual – a time of significant doubts and/or fears that God has abandoned you, etc. It reminds me of Jesus’ time on the cross, right before He died – “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani.” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

From the limited research I’ve done it appears that in Catholicism a dark night of the soul is not a trial to endure, but rather a gift to bring you closer to God. Without weathering the storm of doubts and fears, a person’s faith would be shallow. The dark night brings depth and with it, a more authentic and valuable intimacy with God.

I am in a dark night of the soul. I don’t really know when it will end, or how. I hope that eventually it does.

But, I guess I just wanted to share because that’s what the book said to do. And while it was fiction, of course, really good things came out of people sharing.

I recently watched the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Netflix (again, highly recommend). In it, the characters in a small town form deep bonds of friendship over a shared trial (the German occupation). While it was an unlikely group to be sure, their friendships are sincere and profound. As in the Authenticity Project, the community that formed – one that was there for each other regularly and, to use a phrase I particularly hate, in a “life-giving” way – is what I think we all really want, deep down. Friends who not only have us over for the holidays, but also hang out with us on Friday nights. And at Tuesday book clubs. Who know our secrets and would defend us (or challenge us, as the situation deemed necessary). Friends who would know if we were alive or not – and would really care.

I don’t have a neat and tidy way to wrap this up, honestly. There is no moral to my story – at least not yet. And I don’t know if I even have a challenge for you, my readers. Perhaps you have a story that you would like to share in this authenticity effort. You can leave it in the comments or email it to me – or post it wherever you’d like and just tag me if you’re comfortable; I’d love to read it.

Maybe, instead, you have somehow found something in what I’ve said that has made you feel less alone. I’d be very encouraged to hear that, too.

Perhaps, you’ve come through your own dark night of the soul. If so, that story would likely benefit so many, and I encourage you to share it.

I would ask, though, respectfully, for no pity or platitudes. I’m not sharing this story for pity – really, unless you can move to DC and hang out with me regularly, that won’t do me much good, anyway. And platitudes have never done anyone much good.

But, personal sharing is welcome and encouraged. I hope you will.

Thank you for reading this epistle. May your nights of the soul burn brightly.

<3,

SB