The Long Loneliness

by Dorothy Day

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.

While "the long loneliness" may seem a depressing title for an autobiography, Day's story is much more about the positive ways she dealt with her situation than the loneliness she experienced (though, as typical with Day, she does not sugarcoat her pain). In her autobiography, Day talks about the "long loneliness" as a phenomenon that women are particularly prone to and argues that all of us, both men and women, need more than our spouse and children to thrive. Her original Catholic Worker house arose from her longing for companionship as a single mother. She believed we all find fulfillment through the love and companionship that comes through struggling with living in community.

It was years before I woke up without that longing for a face pressed against my breast, an arm about my shoulder. The sense of loss was there.

A journalist, Day is a vivid and concrete writer, as the above quote illustrates. Much of what drove Day was the ending of her relationship with Forster, her lover and the mother of her child, Tamar. Her Christian work in developing a community grew directly out of the needs in her own life. She drew people into her Catholic Worker houses from her equals and also from the "least of these," the outcasts of society. She recognized they had the same need for love and companionship that she did. Her own visceral sense of loss and loneliness led her to compassion toward others.

There was no attack on religion because people were generally indifferent to religion. They were neither hot nor cold. They were the tepid, the materialistic, who hoped that by Sunday churchgoing they would be taking care of the afterlife, if there were an afterlife. Meanwhile they would get everything they could in this.

This quote goes to the heart of Day's theology and the main theme of her life's work: walk the walk. Religion is not about seeking heaven after death while living a selfish, materialistic existence on earth, it is about living out the gospel: feeding the poor, comforting the sick, pouring out love and forgiveness toward all people. Some of the frustrations she articulates in her autobiography include her irritation with Catholic priests who sent people to her overcrowded Catholic Worker house rather than opening their own doors.

God made us in His image and likeness. Therefore we are creators. He gave us a garden to till and cultivate. We become co-creators by our responsible acts, whether in bringing forth children, or producing food, furniture or clothing. The joy of creativeness should be ours.

This is another articulation of the idea that faith is to be lived through responsible action. Day took seriously the idea that we are to help co-create the kingdom of God on Earth, not simply passively wait for it to happen. All her life, she was dedicated to social action.

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