If we were to freeze frame the world right now, how many of the 7 billion plus would be experiencing some form of loneliness in this moment? Whether it is lying alone in a hospital bed, walking the streets aimlessly, in an unhealthy relationship, grieving the loss or suffering of a loved one, feeling alone in a crowd, crawled up in a ball in a corner on on the bed, or pondering one of the questions about life, I would guess that in this moment, 1 in 10 of us is feeling some form of aloneness. How many of the 7 billion have felt like this at one or more times in their life? I would guess at that moment that we would see 9 out of 10 hands go up. If so many have experienced this, you would think that we would be able to be there for others when they are feeling alone, but I have not found this to be the case.
I ponder this as I sit in view of the famous Hollywood sign, watching the crowds. I watched what appeared to be a homeless man walk by. He appeared harmless, but to many it was as if he was not even there. This reminded me of the plight of the lonely, finding themselves adrift and on their own, feeling alone even in large crowds. After all who wants to be around someone when they are feeling all alone?
Along with loneliness are often the feelings of being afraid, depressed and sad. These are taxing behaviors to be around. Yet we have all been there at one time or another, and realized how good it felt when someone gave up a few moments to be with us. They probably did not know what to say, or felt awkward, knowing not what to do. But the secret was that they were there, that is what counted most. If this is something most of us have experienced, why is it we tend to avoid others when they are feeling all alone?
I am sure there are many reasons for this. Who wants to feel this way, which can be contagious when we are around others who are feeling down. Many feel awkward as mentioned before. But most of all, my guess would be that at some level we are reminded of this feeling, and how awful it feels, enough to avoid it at all costs. I believe another key reason is our judgement. It is easy to avoid dealing with someone when we can justify in our own mind why they must feel this way or are deserved of this.
The challenge I offer to myself as much as to others is to take that moment to let someone know that you care. Invite them for a cup of coffee, offer them a candy, or just let them know that if they need to talk that they can come to you. As we have all learned along the way, we cannot solve other people’s problems, but we can be there along the way or in that moment to remind them that others do indeed care. Yes we make ourselves vulnerable in that our offer to help may be rejected, awkward in that we do not know what to do or say, helpless in that we don’t know how to help them, or become sad ourselves. But if we take that risk, we discover a feeling that is unparalleled to any other feeling of greatness or happiness, and that is that we helped a fellow human being.
This reminds me of one of my top 20 feelings in life when I was on a ferry and with my friends. The fresh salt air and sight of the ocean around me was awesome. At one point I noticed a woman standing alone next to the guardrail. She seemed motionless and just staring at nothing. I glanced back periodically and noticed that she had not moved. She had that look of being all alone. I excused myself from my friends stating that I had to do something.
I approached her nervous and scared. Would she scream at me or mistake my intention to be hitting on her? Was I wrong about how she was feeling? I stopped and looked back at my friends who were watching me. I wanted to leave, but challenged myself to take the next step. Then my introvert nature took over and I had no idea what to say. This was worse than trying to hit on a woman, which did not come easy for me.
I stood next to her and at one moment mustered up the courage to say hi. She looked at me strangely and I said something dumb like, “just came over to smell the sea air” (as if it was going to smell different than a few feet away). At one point I decided to let it all out and said to her, “I couldn’t help but wonder if you were feeling okay, sorry to approach you like this.” At that moment, she looked at me and started to cry. She spoke about how alone she felt. For the next few minutes, which felt like an eternity, she shared her pain. I had no idea what to do or say. I felt like I was in over my head. And then I told her about the time when I felt all alone when my mother died.
We talked a few more minutes and then I stated that I was sorry that she felt so bad. I stated that based on my own experience, that I knew that this too would pass, but for now to find ways to deal with her pain. I had no idea whether this was appropriate or not to say. “In any case,” I said, “I hope that you feel better and sorry if I interferred.” She then said something that will forever stick with me, which was that she was contemplating suicide and was thankful that I stopped by.
I have no idea what she did, but at that moment I felt as if I may have made a difference in someone’s life. It was the best feeling ever!