I have noticed a trend over the past two years. The folks with whom I work are often struggling with physical pain, emotional distress, mental illness and substance misuse, however the thing that they tend to bring up most often is that they are lonely. They have no one to talk with. They have few, if any, friends. They have no one with whom to share a meal, or a snuggle. They feel alone, and this is a cause of deep distress. One of the stories that has stuck with me for several years is that of a woman in her 60’s sitting by the docks in Hyannis. She was saying “hi” to everyone to walked by, and people were avoiding her. She is not dirty, she is not dressed oddly, she is not acting outrageously, she is just sitting there with her back pack and some of her personal belongings saying “hi.” She said several people moved as far away from her as possible, others’ looked away. Finally someone sat next to her and pressed $5.00 into her palm. She said she took the $5.00 but all she really wanted was someone to look her in the eye. She wanted connection. We are built for connection, even the shyest, even the most introverted of us need others in our lives. I know that the pandemic, which forced most of us into isolation, made this so very clear and we became really creative in the ways that we connected virtually. However, virtual connectivity is not enough. We need to be with people, we need to feel their energy, we need a handshake or a pat on the shoulder, we need eye contact, smiles or other facial gestures, we need loved ones to hug and kiss, we need close friends with whom to share our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Imagine living in a one room world where the only folks you talk to are health care providers or bill collectors. Imagine getting excited to go to the hospital for chemo because you know you will have company and someone will care for you for a couple of hours, imagine complete disconnect from your family because of undiagnosed mental illness, imagine being lonely for so long that you no longer feel that you are worthy or capable of human connection, imagine endless days of this loneliness.
We are called to love one another, we are called to be good Samaritans and exhibit (safely) a willingness to cross that which divides us, and reach out in love and compassion. Imagine if we did this with those who have been marginalized, just a smile, just a little eye contact, just an acknowledgement that we are all inherently worthy and beloved. Imagine.