Hello in There

“Ya know old trees just grow stronger

Old rivers run wilder every day

But old people, they just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say “Hello in there, hello”

~John Prine

Sometimes the smallest things can touch my heart in the strongest way.  This is especially true when it comes to lonely people.

When I was a little girl it was not unusual to travel with my parents to the nearby town of Palmer, Massachusetts.  In those days my hometown of Monson only had a few stores, but Palmer was a larger community with bigger stores.  We frequently visited PD Shoes and the Five and Dime store on Main Street, and my mother often shopped for groceries at Palmer’s A&P.

Trips to Palmer were an adventure.  My mother piled all eight of us into the station wagon, where we elbowed each other ancar seatd fought over who got to ride in the front or the “way back.”  There were no seat belts and the baby car seat was an invitation to disaster.  But by the grace of God and St. Christopher, we always reached our destination without disaster, with the exception of the time my brother Scott barfed all over the back seat.

On these road trips I usually watched the scenery- pedestrians crossing in front of the Monson Bowling Alley, mourners at Hillside Cemetery, sheep and horses on Palmer Flats.  Each five mile trip was pretty much the same as all the others.

But one day my mother took an alternate route and passed by the A&W Root Beer stand in Palmer, and the next ten seconds changed me forever. As we drove by, I saw a man in a business suit sitting alone at a picnic table, his lunch in front of him.  He looked entirely ordinary- like any other businessman who might have stopped for a quick lunch on his way to an appointment.  But as I watched him from our passing car, a lump formed in my throat and a great sadness filled my heart.  My eyes filled with tears that I could not understand or explain, so I quickly wiped them away and pretended to be engrossed in looking out the window.  I didn’t dare tell my mother or my siblings.  I could only ponder the moment and try to figure out what would evoke such a strong response in my deepest soul.  The only interpretation I could come up with was the man was lonely.

This was the beginning of a sensitivity I have toward people- especially strangers- who seem to have no one.   I would love to say that I always am kind and conscious of other people’s feelings, but this simply is not the truth. There are many times when I get so caught up in my own life’s events that I fail to recognize the needs in others.  But every once in a while something pricks my heart and without warning, my eyes become hot with tears.

This week was one of those occasions.  I was reviewing a medical chart at work and came across the sentence, “The patient lives alone. She reports that she has not had a visit from her only daughter in over a year.”

These words cut straight to my heart, and that old familiar lump rose in my throat.  I have never met this woman but I think she must ache with loneliness.  Although I am aware that we often make our own unhappy situations, I cannot imagine how painful it is to not get a call or email or visit from a loved one-  to not share a funny story, or talk over a problem, or cry over a lost friend.

I think that loneliness is a silent illness.  Those who suffer from it hide their malady, afraid that they will become the accused if they cry aloud.  Our culture chastises those who are lonely, telling them to join a group, donate time to a charity, give of themselves.  And while this can alleviate some symptoms, there are those people who spend their lives doing and donating, and still crawl between the sheets at night feeling cold and unloved.

So what do we do?

elevatorHere’s one idea.  At work I often ride the elevator, mostly because I am lazy.   But it affords me the opportunity to chat with others on the ride. Most people, lonely or not, board the elevator, look at the door and wait to reach their floor.  I have a habit of breaking the silence.  I ask them what the weather is like outside.  I ask them if they know where they are going when they exit the car.  I look them in the eye and smile at them.  I wish them well when we part.  It’s a small thing- tiny actually- but for just one moment, and it might be the only moment that day, someone stopped long enough to say, “ hello.”

I might not be able to change the world,  but if each reader of this post took one step to alleviate loneliness, and shared it  so others could follow suit,  we could certainly impact those around us.  I invite you- challenge you- to come up with a suggestion and share it in the comments below.  Let’s see how far the ripple travels.

 “So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare

As if you didn’t care.  Say “Hello in there, hello.”

Advertisements
Previous Post
Next Post
Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. zcr1@comcast.net

     /  October 31, 2014

    Hi Garrie, Lovely post and the timing couldn’t be better with the holidays fast approaching. You made me cry!! Try walking thru the grocery store smiling at people–reactions are generally one of shock and then a smile or a “she’s nuts” look.

    Hope you are well–enjoying Jacob. Zee

    Like

    Reply
  2. Jodi Stewart

     /  November 3, 2014

    Couldn’t agree more…beautiful! I try to tell my kids to be sure to do at least one kind thing for someone each day and then reflect on either what they did or what someone else did at the end of the day (whether it was a smile or holding the door for someone).

    Like

    Reply

Do you like this post? Have a comment to add? Please do!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: