My husband and I were at breakfast recently, in a restaurant while traveling. It was nothing fancy, the ‘eating area’ of a small hotel, yet it was, oddly enough, quite busy. It turns out there was a convention of sorts, of an ‘elderly and disabled group of veterans’. Spirits were high in the breakfast room. Lots of chatter; clearly a busy dining room on this day.
As my husband went to the buffet, I scanned the room quite innocently, noting the various ages, and stages of mobility of the patrons and my eyes stopped on a booth just across from our table, where a lone man sat. Given that the dining area was full I assumed he would be joined by others as there was rapidly to be a shortage of seats, and this was after all a convention. Throughout breakfast I glanced over but he remained alone in his booth. He so very clearly belonged with this group – I don’t know how I knew that but I did. He was, like the rest, elderly and slightly disabled, but there was something more; something I couldn’t put my finger on and then it hit me. He was ‘alone’.
I watched him, subtly. (I hope) He’d stare at his hands, glance around the room and almost smile, then he’d readjust his cutlery. Periodically a waitress would come by to top up his coffee or ask if he needed anything more, and he’s smile and decline, returning his gaze to his hands. I instinctually knew he was a part of this group, this convention, and that he’d come looking to connect with someone, anyone, but my instincts told me he couldn’t initiate anything himself. He came looking for peers, companionship, but he needed another to invite him in to a conversation. My heart ached for him. He looked patient, and kind, and desperately lonely, and I secretly prayed one of these boisterous tables would notice him and extend the invitation. He looked like he wanted so much to be a part of the festivity, the laughter, the banter. And he looked kind, very kind.
I wished I could extend the hand of friendship he needed, but we were on a brief stop in a long road trip so could not offer any longevity to this encounter. We also were not his peers and it was so obvious he was among them, albeit anonymously.
We finished up our meal, paid our bill, and headed back to our car to continue on our journey but for the rest of that day he was on my mind and I realized, there’s a lot of lonely people out there. I wish I could’ve done something, I don’t know what, I just hurt to think there’s someone, anyone, alone who craves company. I suppose if we took the time to really look around maybe we’d see the loneliness, the desperation, and if we went a step further and took the effort to spend time with them, however briefly, perhaps we’d make a difference. Maybe we could bring a few moments of joy to someone. Is that too much to ask? If I were lonely I’d be so very grateful to anyone who reached out to me.
This trip was several weeks ago and I still find myself thinking of the lonely old soul in the booth across from us. I hope with all my heart that he made a connection, a friend, and yet I know he is just one of many lonely souls in society, lost in the numbers and forgotten by too many.
In hind sight I regret not extending the hand of friendship. I could only offer breakfast conversation but it was better than no conversation and perhaps he wasn’t the only one to miss an opportunity. Perhaps he had a fascinating past to disclose, or maybe he’d led a quiet life, uneventful and unremarkable, but I’ll never know, because I didn’t reach out to find out.
I hope he found companionship that weekend, or even just a conversation. I hope he is lonely no more, but even if that were so, I also know there are too many who are,,,,lonely,,,,and lost,,,,,and forgotten, so I vow to pay attention to those around me and if I see another lonely soul I promise to reach out, to make a difference. We all need a friend, even a stranger, ‘however briefly’.