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Illustrations by Oliver Jeffers and Artwork courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

I watched an episode of Charlie Rose . . . oh, ages ago. Tom Hanks was on it, and he talked about loneliness, and about how all great stories in literature are about loneliness. Sorry I don’t have his exact words, but you get the idea.

Loneliness is something we all feel; we all crave a sense of belonging. While I was searching for the exact words that Tom Hanks said, I came across quite a few of his ideas on the subject. In one instance, he explains how the loneliness he has felt over the years was different, depending on the phase of life he was in.

I couldn’t agree more. I watch my kids, with their own struggles, and nearly every tear (besides the toe-stubbing tears) is from loneliness. They want more friends; they want to be accepted; they want to be with their daddy more often. I think they want to know, existentially, what their place is in the world, and how they fit there. They want to feel safe, and accepted, and loved by the people they are required to spend time with. My own childhood was the same.

I wish I could tell them the feeling goes away. But it never really does. I remember in my twenties, when I was a missionary for my church, feeling lonely all the time. The weird thing was, we had a rule that we always had to be with the missionary we were paired up with—they were called “companions.” So here I was, with a companion 24/7—literally, 24/7—and I was still lonely. I learned you can feel lonely even when you’re not alone, and even when you’re in a place where you feel you belong.

I experienced something similar when I was married. I often felt lonely.

Now, in this single-again phase of my life, I’ve felt the sting of loneliness probably more than ever. It’s not so much a question of having enough friends (I love the friends I have) or belonging (I know where I belong; it’s right here, with my kids), or feeling safe and accepted (God looks out for me, so I always feel safe right now, and my kids tend to accept me, crazy as I am.). The loneliness I feel now is the unfulfilled longing for connecting with someone, to love him completely, and to have him love me completely in return, without holding back.

I haven’t really loved a picture book in a long time, and I’ve been in search of my new favorite. I think this is it. When I discovered Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers on the mantelpiece at my friend Laura’s house, I picked it up for its adorable illustrations. It is this sweet, simple story about a boy who discovers a penguin on his doorstep. As the boy journeys to bring the penguin safely home to the South Pole, he learns that maybe all the penguin wanted was a friend.

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Illustrations by Oliver Jeffers and Artwork courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group

By the end, I was trying not to sob in front of Laura. Yeah, I think this single mom thing is starting to wear on me. You know it’s bad when a picture book about a penguin makes you lose it.

C.S. Lewis says in the Anthony Hopkins version of Shadowlands, “We read to know we are not alone.” In that moment, while tearing up over a children’s book, something about the story made me feel understood, and not so alone in the world. I’m still lonely, of course, but out there somewhere is a penguin who understands.