This morning I came across this story:
It is the story of an elderly man who was simply eating a hamburger at the local “In and Out” burger shop. At first glance, he is sitting by himself simply eating his burger. But a closer look shows that he has a picture on his table. It is an old picture of a relatively younger lady, and the picture is facing him. One of the restaurant patrons decided to walk over and ask about the photo, and comes to find out the man was not eating alone. He was eating with the photo, and more importantly, the memory of his deceased wife.
A conversation reveals that the love of his life had passed away 5 years ago after 55 years together as husband and wife. The story is sweet and it is heartbreaking, and it is one that plays out like a beautiful love story, even if the love is now within the memories of the mind. But look a little closer. This is a story that also demonstrates an elderly man’s unbreakable bond to a woman he spent his life lifting up as his partner, his mate, and one of the primary reasons his life had meaning.
That is a beautiful story. But there is another story as well. There is the story of a young man who sees this elderly man, sees the picture and takes the time
to ask about the picture and hear the man’s story. The story within the story is that this beautifully tragic tale of love, loss and loneliness, and now the sharing of the story is happening because this young man takes the time to notice. He takes the time to ask. And then, most importantly, he takes the time to listen.
Have you ever looked around and seen someone who was alone?
Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen someone eating alone or been to a park and seen someone sitting alone? Have you ever noticed elderly folks who are watching life alone rather than experiencing it with someone? The story of the man who eats with his wife’s memory and photo every evening is a heartwarming tale, but I wonder how much he enjoyed being able to talk about his lovely wife and share the story of how they met and passionately affirmed how his love will never end. What a great story and what a shame it would be if someone had not asked about it and heard it and shared it. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people around me. Whether in an airport or in the stands for a football game or just taking a walk through the park, there are people everywhere. For many years I led the “live and let live” style of life which meant you go your way and I will go mine. But something changed the way I see that person sitting alone, especially if that person is elderly.
When my Papa had a stroke and lost the ability to effectively communicate, I watched as the people around him pulled away because they could not understand him. I watched as his symptoms put up barriers that most people were too uncomfortable trying to overcome. The sadness this created for my Papa was almost as debilitating as the stroke. When I realized what was happening, I started calling a couple of times a week and I would take the time to ask him a question or two, then I would sit back as he let a week’s worth of pent up communication frustrations com gushing out. In truth, I could not understand most of what he was saying, and he was not looking for me to provide any sort of wisdom or even feedback. He just needed someone to take a little time and listen.
He needed someone to take the time to affirm that he had a voice, it would be heard, and it was worth spending a few minutes to listen to. Since that time, I have started noticing the person who is alone. What I have learned is that sometimes the traveler wants to be alone, but I have never had anyone react to a friendly “Hello. How are you?” in a negative manner. In fact, I have heard some great stories. I have heard some long and boring stories. I have seen smiles and I have even seen some tears. But the one thing I have seen every time is a smile. Someone listened. Someone heard. Someone took a little time. And when someone take the time and listens to you and affirms your worth, then you have to smile. In my last blog post I challenged you to just be nice. The challenge was to give nice a real effort and a real try.
Please accept this challenge and take it one step farther.
Find the elderly person or even the younger person who is alone and take the time to say hello. Ask them how they are doing. Strike up a conversation and then prepare yourself to be the listener. Yes, this will cost you 5-10 minutes. Yes, you are taking the chance that they tell you to go away. And yes, you are possibly opening yourself up to someone who will talk your ear off. But you are also taking a chance on hearing some beautiful story. You are taking the chance to hear of a life’s adventures as that life nears its fulfillment. And yes, you are taking the chance of making someone feel affirmed and worthy and alive.
Memories can be a beautiful thing but when all you have are memories then the present can be very lonely. There are just too many people in this world for anyone to have to feel alone. Maybe we can take nice, add listening to it and make loneliness a lot less consuming. Who knows, maybe you will hear the next story that brings tears to the eyes of millions of people who click to read of the man who dines with his wife’s memories. Someone needs to dig for that gold and then share that story. And all it takes is a simple, “Hello. How are you?”