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.