The person sitting alone

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Have you ever found yourself sitting alone? Praying to God someone would say hello. Hoping someone will smile or at least acknowledge that you are there because the thought of sitting alone again without one single interaction is more than you can bear. I have.

I have felt so alone that I have driven somewhere, anywhere, just to find myself among people. And even just a smile from a stranger across the room meant more to me in that moment than a thousand words could express. There is a level of loneliness that chips away at the soul if it is left unaddressed.

The sad thing about this is that there are people feeling this all around us everyday. Whether we are at work, a restaurant, the gym, church, at home – even when surrounded by people, there are so many who feel utterly alone. They long to know and be known, but it is viewed as a weakness to express such a need. It requires an uncomfortable level of vulnerability. We are supposed to be independent. We are supposed to not need anyone. Rugged individualism.

When some brave soul ventures toward that person sitting alone and asks how they’re doing often times the reply is little more than, I’m good. Just busy. Just tired. Just something. These are nothing more than knee-jerk responses said before we even realize what we are saying. We don’t want to be perceived as weak. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We push it down a little bit more and work up a smile in hopes of seeming to be a little bit less of a mess than we presently feel.

Maybe you can relate to this or maybe not. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can all remember times we have felt alone. Regardless, this is a reality for a growing number of people. People have a need to belong. And there is no worse feeling than to realize when you need a friend, there is no one to call. There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere you belong.

In the seasons when I have experienced this, it has forged in me a deep compassion for people who feel they have no tribe, no community. I have been praying as I have tried to find how to be intentional about making a difference for these people. The statistics are abysmal, but it hits home when it is no longer just a number. It is a face. It is your face.

I was thinking today about when I have been the person sitting alone, and how I have seen those who are in conversations around me. It is easy to see they are friends who know each other well. You halfway hope they make eye contact with you and motion for you to join in the conversation. The other half feels uncomfortable being seen as the one who is alone, so you hope to remain unnoticed. I believe this is one reason why so many turn to their phones. It helps numb the awkward feelings, but at the same time, it walls us off from the connection we so desire.

Today, I saw something different. While we are looking at those around us who community comes easily hoping they will see us and end our plight, we fail to see others just like us –  alone and as uncomfortable as we are. Instead of waiting for someone to extend kindness to me, I am fully able to be the one to speak with the others who are hemmed in by their isolation.

I have done this a few times, but honestly – I imagine it would be an embarrassingly low number if I could recall each instance. But I remember how I felt each time. Whether young, old, man, woman, or child – we all have a need to belong. And I have the ability to connect with someone and let them know they matter, and I see them, and they belong right here.

I’m no longer going into new places to find those who are among their friends and hope they will welcome me into their group. If that happens, I will warmly welcome it, but instead of waiting – I will be looking for the person sitting alone. I will seek them out. I want them to know they are not invisible. I want them to experience kindness. I want them to be able to put an end to the question that tirelessly runs through their mind. Yes, you belong here. And as long as I have something to say about it, you will not sit alone again.

If you already do this, I thank you a thousand times for your kindness. If you are like me and have not approached the person sitting alone as often as you would like to say, I invite you to start today. Everything in life is about intentionality. Your smile and kind words may very well be the hope a person at the end of their rope latches onto. People are amazing. They are beautiful. They are a treasure worth your effort. Every single one of them. Embrace the awkward moments along the way. I promise it will be worth it. We can shift culture round about us and ensure that every room we walk into – there is no person left sitting alone.

Isolation ends when we each decide it ends. I choose to create community wherever I venture. Alone we crumble. Together we build. Will you join me?

AR