“Laing examines the particular, pervasive form of loneliness in the eye of a city aswirl with humanity:
Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building. The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure.
You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people. One might think this state was antithetical to urban living, to the massed presence of other human beings, and yet mere physical proximity is not enough to dispel a sense of internal isolation. It’s possible – easy, even – to feel desolate and unfrequented in oneself while living cheek by jowl with others. Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as is desired. Unhappy, as the dictionary has it, as a result of being without the companionship of others. Hardly any wonder, then, that it can reach its apotheosis in a crowd.”
How true! In the busy city of Hong Kong I had experienced this ,standing on the twentieth floor balcony of a skyscraper. You were hemmed in by a number of high-rise buildings with their lighted windows . You could see the people inside “swim” through the light like luminous little fish in an aquarium. Each window was an aquarium of many hues and the people swam through their light in the tiny spaces, sometimes reaching the dead end of the glass wall and taking quick about turns.
You see their tangible presences but cannot reach out to them. What a splendid isolation, when you feel so alone in the midst of thousands of people. around you.
The amusing thing is that even after people descend from their glass houses on to the streets ,you still see them walk ,staring at each other from glassy eyes as if they are continuing their swim in the lighted windows.