I ride the bus. A lot. I walk. A lot. And in my riding and walking, I meet and see a tremendous amount of people. And I always wonder about their lives. About the young couple in the car driving past, what their lives are like and if they’re talking about having children. About the older lady in the thrift-store, what she’s experienced, lived through. About the man behind the counter of Walgreens, I wonder if he’s single.
Point being, I interact on some level with a hundred strangers per day in my little travels. Bus drivers, patrons and cashiers, random people doing their random chores in their random lives. I’m curious about each one. And as I smile my smile, exchange a few pleasantries, hold a door or chase down runaway oranges (doesn’t just happen in the movies), I wonder what impact I have.
If, for a moment, my smile, words, or actions make a difference.
This world is filled with lonely people. From every nation, every religion, every walk of life. It’s a fact that among the hundreds, if not thousands of people you see each day, there are far too many who are lonely. Who are longing for even the slightest, briefest connection.
Who’s to know who is lonely? We are the best at keeping that particular secret. I’ve talked with several people from the Web Of Loneliness site who say that they will admit to most anything before loneliness. It is a shame we hide deep, deep within. A secret that would cause unmentionable embarrassment if we were found out. But every day we are hoping that someone will see us, hear us, notice us. I know I do.
For in my small courtesies, do I not also seek that acknowledgement? A returned smile in answer to my own? A laugh at a simple joke? Even a “thank you” grudgingly given. These are things that intrude upon my own loneliness. That make my heart swell slightly, my cheeks redden with a blushing grin.
So, like me, many of us toil and travel on. Delighting in those brief interactions. Perhaps quietly going about our daily chores with a lowered gaze, avoiding all contact – yet desperate, so desperate, for a single genuine smile sent our way. What does it hurt? How hard is that to give? What does it cost one to do a single kindness, that could make another person’s day? That could make that one day worth living?
I traveled in Finland briefly, years ago. At the time I wasn’t so lonely, as I was with a man I was sure would be mine for life. But something he told me stuck me so oddly, and to this day echoes loneliness to me. He warned me that I should not smile to strangers on the street, as I normally do at home in the Midwest. Candidly, he told me that in so doing, the Finns would think me “simple.” Perhaps even “crazy.” Again, this sentiment has haunted me for years. How horribly lonely I would feel there, to not be able to share a smile and nod to a passerby. Not laugh with a stranger in the shops. It was heartbreaking to me then, as now.
For what better way can we show our love and support for each other, as humans, than to give of ourselves? The smallest token – a smile, a shared commiseration at the high price of lettuce that season, a door opened and held.
These are the things that matter, to me. To one person who feels alone and disconnected from the world. And who can’t help but wonder how many others in my small sphere of strangers, feels the same.
So I smile when the couple glances over. I ask questions of the older lady in the thrift-store. And yes, I joke with the man behind the Walgreen’s counter (and hope he’ll ask me out) – because I know what these small acts mean to me, and I hope in doing them, they’ll give a bit of ease to any loneliness those others are feeling. It is the least, and the most, I can do.