Caseythoughts"Just a castaway
An island, lost at sea,
Another lonely day
With no one here but me.

I'll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets
My message in a bottle.

Walked out this morning
Don't believe what I saw:
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore.
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home."

Message in a Bottle, The Police

As an alcohol and drug counselor for ten years after leaving radio, I frequently found reason to express to my patients my conviction that addiction (no matter what particular iteration) was a 'disease of lonely'. That if we looked upon not only our teenage years as well as our time chained to our particular drug/behavior, we addicts felt as if we were outsiders looking in; many of us couldn't figure out during those dramatic teen years if we were jocks or nerds, clowns or geeks; we couldn't figure out the boy-girl thing, and felt as out to sea with our peers as Sting expressed in his message in a bottle. Belonging to some crowd, belonging period, was something we longed for and cried about in our teen angst. Then, for some of us, our first beer, our first smoke, opened our eyes to a hazy hallelujah, we felt finally as if we belonged. In addition to that feeling, our feelings of pain and alienation, our problems at home, our isolation went away for awhile and we seemed to be among those who understood. Those who smiled with us and implied "Yeah, now you're one of us."

For so many, this was the first step down a road which often led to a deeper loneliness and isolation called addiction. Yes, there were, and are, genetic reasons, as well (what we called nature and nurture issues). And, to pull out of that deepening morass before it killed us was to recognize the lonely (a painful and disheartening process) and start to trust humanity again, as well as trust ourselves; step tentatively into an understanding and empathetic society of those who had come back from the brink and formed a community of self-help and belief in the necessity of fellowship, the sharing of goals and fears as well as self-disclosure, honesty, hopes and failures, success and retrenchments. We learned the value of community and shared our personal and painful stories.

I relate this as I contemplate the current American crisis. Now, I admit using the word 'crisis' invites criticism, but you may fill in "What" the crisis is in any words terms, definitions you please. But we are in a crisis mode, and I think that the preceding paragraphs are prelude to what I have been feeling and seeing, hearing and contemplating.

Most have us have heard that there is a volunteer crisis in America: volunteer fire departments, for one example, are struggling, along with many, many other community organizations. It has been noted that most religious denominations are, for the most part, graying and aging out; young, especially the 'millennials', are opting out of many church and community organizations, using one of two phrases: "I'm spiritual, not religious", or, simply, "I haven't the time". And, throughout America, not-for-profits appear to have no problem raising money but struggle to actually get people to donate/pledge their time to community activities. A sense of community that once pervaded America seems lost in the phrase "I'm too busy". Individualism, the focus on "me", social media and entertainment appear to have taken the focus of millions of us. The community loses. Maybe Ithaca is the exception, but even here we have continual needs for involvement.

David Brinkley and Tom Brokaw, in commenting on the Great Depression and World War II both felt that we were victorious in the effort to defeat Naziism and evil because our sense of fraternity birthed and developed during the depression years: looking out for one another, the "all for one, one for all", "He ain't heavy, he's my brother" attitudes that kept America together, and preparing us for the great fights of the forties.

Toqueville in the 19th century cited America's "joining spirit" which was so new to him, so revealing of America's pioneer spirit: everyone a joiner in community, every one a participant in the American society's great engine of progress and democracy. This, he wrote, was what presaged America's coming greatness.

Is all of this gone? Have we possibly splintered into tens of millions of lonely little islands, castaways, lost at sea, content in our little cocoons of Iphones and Netflix specials? Is it possible to contemplate that we are experiencing a loss of community, losing a shared purpose while our community organizations are begging for volunteers in service?? Losing a shared purpose?? Are we too busy to join?? Are we building our own personal Berlin wall?

Is it possible that so much of what we see and hear of this sad, crazed world is about a disease of lonely? Lonely people doing lonely, sad disastrous things to other lonely people. And the newscast will serve up one funny or heartwarming story, last in the news agenda, before a message from the sponsor, to help us forget the previous twenty two minutes of pain and destruction, to help us forget how lonely a world it so often seems. Howard Beall's rant "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" rings hollow in the forty years since 'Network' first rattled us in the movie theatres, and when the network commentator started lecturing the crowd about loneliness, his ratings tanked.

In all of this, we are confronted with what pollsters and talking heads, politicians and opinion makers are describing as "the opioid crisis", and with this my history and training kick in, and I wonder if this crisis is but a symptom: a symptom, among many, of a disease called lonely. A national malignancy that uses the fuel of isolation, lack of community and perhaps downright me-ness to keep eating at our conscience. A national loneliness, a nation of loners, wondering what's gone wrong in the country and the world, while staring down at our little six inch screens and binge watching another numbing televised blockbuster, which, not surprisingly, scripts out lonely people with lonely problems. And the opioid disaster seems to exacerbate this issue of doing anything to alleviate the feeling of isolation and not belonging, much like those teenage years when we felt left out. Here, take this pill; may it serve you well.

We seem desperate to talk, but perhaps have lost the ability to do so face to face, or perhaps in a communal, understanding, safe place. We seem to have forgotten how to share, how to let our defenses down, how to say "How can I help you?", or, even more to the point, how to admit "I could use some help". Our tough American individualism (or our loss of community) has devolved into "I've got mine, Jack", and I'm going to protect mine. Worse, perhaps, we just turn off the news (Leary's"turn on, tune in, drop out"), and decide to not delve deeper into the possibility of getting involved, and just shake our heads and mutter about what's America coming to? And feeling the dread loneliness, not just the symptom, but the disease itself.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh said "We are all islands in a common sea". Can we make a stab at re-invigorating the sense of community which Toqueville, Brinkley and Brokaw, as so many others thought was our national glue? Perhaps that sense of belonging, of joining in common cause, finding a common thread, volunteering and giving our time with and to others can be rewoven into the American tapestry before it is rent irreparably.

A hundred billion bottles, washed up on the shore. Seems I'm not alone at being alone, a hundred billion castaways, looking for a home. So many of our brothers and sisters looking for a way home. I think a small step would be to look at the loneliness, and look for ways to ease the national pain of what appears to be lonely. To look up from our phones, our "chatting" and texting, and take a look at how we can redefine and reestablish community, fellowship. Volunteer, give instead of take ( not money, necessarily, but time and personal effort) and in the process ease our own loneliness while easing someone else's. It's not hard, it's been done before; it's another American challenge, looking for you to consider and confront.