What is it like to be lonely? This week while I am surrounded by great students and my colleague Ed, and some new friends, I know I am missing the comfort of having my wife nearby. That little dog that I love is also missed as I look forward to him greeting me at the door each day. When both are home it is a race to see who greets me first. Truly, I am loved by wife and dog.

But loneliness is much different than missing the beloved. Loneliness is being ignored, maybe even invisible. Loneliness is walking down the street and having people avert their eyes so they don’t make eye contact with you. Loneliness is not having anyone want to be bothered with you.

A friend once took a retreat (more like an experiment) where they lived for a weekend on the street. He was the type of person who would never give a homeless person money. We asked him about his experience when he returned.

“Well,” he said, “I know you all expect me to say that now I would give the homeless money. But I hate to say this, I still wouldn’t.”

We all let out a sigh of indignation.

“No, now let me finish,” our friend continued. “What I WOULD do is that I’d never not look a homeless person in the eye again. The worst part of being homeless is not being hungry or cold. It’s being invisible. There are plenty of service in the city that can help out with a sandwich or a coffee or even a place to stay. But there’s not a lot of people who help give people a basic dignity–where people can realize that they matter.”

Amen. As Ali G would say, “Respect!”

Who do you ignore? Who do you avert your eyes from or step over on your way to work. Granted, we can’t help them all, but a hearty good morning or a smile or even just an acknowledgement that they are on the planet is something that we can provide–and it doesn’t cost a dime. We can say “No, sorry, I can’t help you out with any change–but there’s free sandwiches at Maria’s Kitchen around the block later today.” That’s giving people some dignity again–or even just reminding them that they have dignity—all too easy to forget when you are poor.

Today, challenge yourself to not avert your eyes when you see someone who is poor, or homeless. Remind yourself that they are worthy–just as worthy of respect as we are. God loves each of them as he loves us. No more, but more importantly, no less.

0 thoughts on “Are You Lonely?”
  1. I wrote a column for the diocesan paper about my failings in this regard last summer. There is a dignity even in saying, this is not help I can give. It made me think of this line in a poem by John O’Donohue: May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality…

    Thanks for the reminder to continue to be willing to see, not turn away, from Christ in this distressing guise.

  2. I have to admit I’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding eye contact with the homeless, although here in San Francisco it’s almost a necessary habit just to make it down the street in a timely manner. I don’t think people realize how serious the problem is here. I have to pass at least a dozen homeless people in the few blocks it takes to walk from my apartment to the grocery store. The majority of them are either meth heads or mentally ill, too, which means making eye contact can be a dangerous business. And that’s in one of the most desireable neighborhoods in SF. Forget about the Haight or the Mission or the Tenderloin (which, no way would I walk through anyway, not in broad daylight at high noon, not for anything).

    Maybe that makes me a bad person, but we’re suffering from homeless fatigue around here. Maybe if other cities’ solution to their homeless problem wasn’t to give ’em $50 and a one-way Greyhound ticket to SF, that wouldn’t be the case, but they do so it is.

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