In the movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise’s character (“Maverick”) loses his best friend and co-pilot (“Goose”) in a “dead spin” that Maverick wrongfully believes he could and should have avoided. Overcome with loneliness and devastated by the loss of his friend, Maverick contemplates giving up his dream of becoming the finest fighter pilot in the world, a dream which, with Goose by his side, seemed well within Maverick’s reach. After an extended period of grieving, Maverick’s superior officers coax him back into the cockpit just in time (it seems) to aide his fellow “Top Gun” colleagues in a desperate fire fight with enemy aircraft. When he arrives on the scene, Maverick is filled with and paralyzed by his anxiety and still unresolved guilt over his friend’s death. For a moment, he can’t find the courage to join in the battle, despite the impassioned pleas of his fellow combatants (and friends) that he “ENGAGE!” Eventually, however, Maverick is able to “let go” of his friend and his grief and rejoin the fight. Predictably, the battle with the enemy “bogeys” has a happy ending, as does the movie.
While Top Gun rightfully didn’t garner much in the way of critical acclaim, the foregoing scene provides a compelling metaphor. Like Maverick, there will be times in all of our lives when we will experience an overwhelming sense of loneliness as the result of the death of a loved one, the end of a love relationship or close friendship, our having to leave someone or some group from whom we have derived considerable support or the “loss” of an identity that we have determined no longer has a place in the healthier life we envision for ourselves. Experiencing and processing that loneliness is a necessary and important part of the grieving process. However, it is equally, if not more critical that the grieving process culminates with our being able to “let go” of that sense of loss and the loneliness that inevitably accompanies it and fully commit to re-engaging with others and the world around us. Often that commitment will require purposeful action on our part, either in reaching out to new friends or making it known to existing friends and family members that you are open and available to receive their love and support.
It’s not enough to assume that others will know when the time is right and sit back and “wait for the phone to ring.” Ultimately, it is up to you to re-engage!