There is something about the season of fall that makes homesickness a little more noticeable — cooler weather, shorter days, gusts of wind that make home something to crave. So I recently decided to go to Barnes & Noble, just looking for cozier scenery and a free place to sit that didn’t require a coffee purchase.
I soon noticed that, thinking in a similar way, all kinds of people had come to find refuge in the same spot. The seats at the B&N cafe were filled with a variety of people who weren’t there to get a drink since it’s one of the only places in the neighborhood where you don’t have to buy something to enjoy the space. But it offered some peace from the assault of noise and loneliness outside. So there we all were, being alone together.
It is no big piece of news that being lonely is hard. It is also no big risk to guess that every person on this good planet has suffered this feeling at some point, in some way. But how do you even begin to tackle a burden that seems to have no easy cure, especially when the solution rests with other people?
If I can be so bold enough to suggest it, when you are looking for human connection, you might just try to create it yourself, however small or brief. As hard as it is to embrace it, that “be-the-change” call to action might hold some truth.
Mother Teresa said, “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.” More important than the health of the body is the well-being of the heart, and nothing does small miracles for the loneliness epidemic like personal connection.
One place to start is by making eye contact. Hardly anyone makes it anymore, or when they do, it is not in love. This simplest of connections has been replaced by smartphone screens and headphones. When you are lonely, make a point of not isolating yourself, and maybe even offer a smile.
We run into all kinds of people as we move through our day. If you’re new to a place, start making small connections with others who share your space — the clerk at the counter where you buy your lunch or the older woman always walking her dog when you leave your building. Ask for their name, offer something about yourself. Share their solitude in solidarity, even for a moment, and you both might be reminded that community can exist anywhere, if you make the effort to create it.
Loneliness is also hard to avoid. Obviously, it shows up when you’re alone, but it can also arrive while you’re surrounded by people, even friends or family.
After I left the bookstore, I found a free concert in the park. It was wrapping up, but with all imaginable energy: the music came from an African soul choir with a reggae blend, and the dozens of musicians dancing on the stage were joined by the crowd in pure celebration. It was infectious. I wanted to join in somehow, but it seemed unnatural without someone to dance and sing with. There were hundreds of people, but I knew none of them, and I was reminded that, in that moment, I was alone.
In times like these, loneliness begs to be acknowledged. To ignore it is merely a cover-up. It’s a natural — albeit painful — part of life, and it did me good to embrace experiences like these, even with the loneliness. I still enjoyed the concert for what it was, and tried to be grateful for the chance to occupy myself with a good, life-giving thing.
Seek out new experiences, even if you’ll be alone. The lonely bits could be windows of opportunity for meeting new people, or even knowing yourself better. Look for occasions to interact with people you don’t know. Go outside. Focus on the people you do have, like family — they may not be perfect, but they are your companions for life and, hopefully, people with whom you feel free to be your authentic self.
Most of all, be a haven for others. Seek to make even one person a little less lonely, and these slight nudges toward social change might find their way back to ease your own solitude.
Your time of loneliness is a good time to realize that everyone has suffered this feeling at some point, in some way. It only rests on each of us to decide whether we will suffer alone or continue together.