This Is For All The Lonely People

Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup.

Janell Downing / 12.16.22

Two years ago I had a panic attack on Christmas Day. We were well into the frenzy of Christmas morning. Cinnamon rolls, coffee, cousins, children, more family, all gathered in a living room filled with the heat of the woodstove and our own expectations of receiving and giving. As I sat on the floor, observing the scene, I was overcome with an extreme tightness in my chest and an overwhelming need to cry. I excused myself and stepped outside to breathe in the cold air, damp with rain. I must’ve stood out there for ten minutes crying. I immediately went from observing to rationalizing. Why am I crying? What’s wrong with me? I didn’t know. I had no answers. I let the feelings run their course and went back inside.

Two years ago, it was also 2020. That’s when Loneliness came for a visit, and decided to become our friend. She arrived when the very fabric of how we relate with each other, unraveled over one word — Covid. From behind closed doors, this mysterious marauder invaded our world. In the dark we scrambled, faking it until we made it. We blamed and we hoped.

Like a tide gone out, Loneliness made a home in our small celebrations of life and holidays. She was there in our friendships, as we felt them drift apart like continents in her vast ocean. She was there in the guilt and shame that whispered in my ear, “You haven’t been a very good friend.” She was there in our hurt. All alone, yet all together. She was there when we didn’t know how to respond to another death. She was there as we pointed our fingers, and she was there as fists clenched for power and the vulnerable were left hanging on by a thread. We reaped the seeds of burnout, grief, exhaustion, isolation, pride and division.

Like wrapping paper being torn open, layers of who we thought we were, discarded on the ground. We all found ourselves to be quite vulnerable. I suppose some chose to keep that wrapping paper on, bits of tape here and there, for the sake of dignity. And some didn’t really have a choice but to let it all fall off and start over.

Here we find ourselves two years later, with yet another Christmas approaching. The beginning of the end, anticipation, joy of every longing heart, waiting, the arrival of what was and what will be. There’s no other time within the church calendar for the saints to feel at best — hopeful and at worst alone. While we trudge through our own cultural and familial Christmas traditions, it can feel like why even bother at all? For years I went along with all the glitter and empty promises of Tinseltown, because I wasn’t really awake to my own longing. Two years of living through a pandemic is a good way to wake up to your own longing. I think of Mary and Joseph going from inn to inn looking for a place for the Son of God to be born. Do you have room? He will go where there is room. And thankfully, try as we might to keep that door shut, the Crucified One – that same baby looking for a room to be born in — keeps knocking. He’ll keep knocking all the way until the end of the age.

Our loneliness can lead us to make room if we listen to it. I know I’m not the only one who turns to music to help me feel my feelings and make sense of the world. I think of the song, “Lonely People” by the band America:

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

It is said that America’s lead singer, Dan Peek, wrote this song as an optimistic response to the Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby.”

Dan Peek considered “Eleanor Rigby” an overwhelming “picture … of the masses of lost humanity, drowning in grey oblivion” and would recall being “lacerated” on first hearing the lyrics of its chorus which run “All the lonely people: where do they all come from … where do they all belong”.[1] “Lonely People” was written within a few weeks of Dan Peek’s 1973 marriage to Catherine Mayberry. About the song, Peek said, “I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now [upon getting married] I felt like I’d won.” The lyrics of advise “all the lonely people”: “Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup”, a metaphor which Dan Peek thus explains: “It’s possible to drink from another’s well of experience … and be refreshed.”

It’s one thing to name our condition. We must. But what this song brings to light is the comfort that comes when we “drink from the cup” of another person’s story. And in exchange, offer our own cup. It is no small task to dwell in the company of others. To listen and take to heart the heartbreaks and joys of being alive without judgment of the other, invites us to daily drink of Christ’s cup in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the life and experience of Jesus we find relief and refreshment. It’s a gift that our loneliness can lead us to each other  and to the One who will walk this road with us. The ache will never go away. What a joy it is to join hands with someone else who feels the same.

So, this is for all the lonely people.
Where do they all come from? Where do they all belong?

This is for all the parents, wishing they knew their kids better and what gifts to buy them and, Gosh I hope they’ll like it. I hope they’ll feel like their mom or dad knows them.

This is for all the kids, wishing that their parents could just be themselves. So that the kids could be who they are too. For all the kids of aging parents. Gone are the days of receiving. And here are the days of giving. For the kids with estranged parents, and parents no longer on this earth, lonely in your desperation to be known. May God open up another way for you to be known and cherished.

For the lonely people waiting for children, waiting for a lover, waiting for a better job, waiting for the sickness that plagues their body and mind to be over, waiting for a truce in the fight, a church to gather with, a break in the clouds, an apology, birth of a dream, on and on we wait.

And thankfully one day, we’ll all be going about our business, and like a thief in the night we will breathe our last labored breath and the wait will be over. The tide will come back in. Rushing over our loneliness. Restoring all things to the beauty of Eden, too magnificent to behold. Ours souls finally feeling their worth. Justice will come for evil, and we can finally lay down our swords. Wake up! It’s Christmas morning!

In the meantime, we listen for the sounds of grace. Bursts of hallelujah in a mall food court. We take them to heart, filled with joy and journey on a bit lighter.

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4 responses to “This Is For All The Lonely People”

  1. David Zahl says:

    Beautiful beautiful post, Janell. I was just listening to Dan Peek’s Christmas single, “The Star” today. Worth seeking out (i think the other America guys sing back up).

  2. Janell Downing says:

    Oh thank you Dave! I will definitely check that out. Merry Christmas

  3. Sean says:


  4. Douglas Borowski says:

    Perfect for this particular Christmas Eve Eve. Thank you.

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