The coffee shop. The stranger. The lonely.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Rather than going straight home after church and a Bible group meeting last Sunday, I opted to stay at the mall where my church was located. I purposely was not going to shop.  To read and to write on my journal were two things I could not accomplish with success at home, so with a book and a journal in tow, I already had an itinerary in mind. Where to stay was the question. As I didn’t want to expose myself too much, I scoured for a place where few people stayed and passed by. The mall was a bit more populated than normal that day, so it took me a while to look for a place.

After some walking and self-deliberation, I settled in a tiny coffee shop. It was perfect. Although it was located in a very prominent area, the interior was designed in a way that couldn’t expose myself. Only a small group of three, who were obviously having their own Bible study, occupied the place. I plopped down on the cozy leather sofa beside the table of the small group after ordering a cup of hot chocolate. And then I went on with my itinerary. I started to read, wrote some thoughts and prayers on my journal, and then went back to reading. Ah, it was just what I wanted to do. To lose myself in words — mine or someone else’s — having a rare time I’m not consumed by work and all its inherent worries.

I was enjoying my alone time when a guy of small build passed by my side and headed to sit across my table. He came from behind me, so I only caught a glimpse of him.  I didn’t think he was in any way a threat because I thought he was someone I knew. After all, who else would sit with me other than someone close to me, or at least someone within my circle? When he finally sat down, though, I realized I didn’t know him. Not a friend. Not an acquaintance. A stranger.

He smiled his beautiful smile when he conveniently sat down and slid a solicit letter toward me. Not even opening the letter (I knew what it was all about, all these letters say the same thing), I smiled back at him and shook my head to say, “No, I’m sorry.”  All the traces of his smiling face were gone in an instant, and he was bold enough to show me that. He coldly left.  My eyes followed him when he approached the group beside me and another outside the coffee shop to solicit. Unashamedly, he changed faces every time he was rejected. The guy was obviously disappointed, and so was I.

I was disappointed by his superficial smile. I was disappointed by his superficial kind veneer. But most of all, I was disappointed by my situation.

When I saw the guy coming toward the seat across me,  I was genuinely elated, thinking I could have someone to chat with. It was as if there was a light bulb suddenly flashing inside of me. When I noticed he’s someone I didn’t know, the light snuffed out. I didn’t realize until then that I was seriously hoping for company. And then it dawned on me. I was lonely. And I was disappointed because I was lonely. And I was even more disappointed because I was well aware I was lonely.

I’m not a confrontational person, even with myself. I often find comfort in denial, and so I try as long as it is convenient to deny things that, unknowingly or otherwise, need to be looked upon. Loneliness is one.

It takes big people to admit the fact they’re lonely. It takes an even bigger person to tell people they’re lonely. I’m trying to be  a super big person in doing both.

People who know me might say that my loneliness is bred out of being an unattached single. That somehow accounts for it. I’m at the stage of my life where marriage has become an undying, distracting desire. But I’ve just recently dealt with that, after my desire clouded my present and my precious relationship with God. And with that handled already, I know that this loneliness has less to do with my status.

In case you’re asking, yes, I have friends. And I know these people I call friends consider me friends, too, and that I can run to them when needed. In fact, if they know I’m feeling lonely, I think they’ll be around to offer some company.

So where is this loneliness coming from if it’s not necessarily sparked by singleness or friendlessness?

Ever since I started working from home full-time, I have rarely seen most of my friends and had really meaningful conversations with them. Some I see on a weekly basis, but with the busyness and all, we’re bound with limitations. This relational abnormality I call isolation didn’t strike me as a problem at first. I’m a bit of a loner to begin with. I socialize very little. I don’t mind having few friends. Not until I found myself walking alone at the mall, surrounded by people with whom I didn’t belong, silently hoping to have someone to bare my soul to,  and opting to stay at a coffee shop where people couldn’t see me alone did I finally realize loneliness was creeping through my veins.

Let me get this straight. I love having an alone time. But if alone time happens more than necessary, I’ve got to say there’s seriously a problem. Virtually, there’s a wall between me and my friends, and worse, bridges toward new and potential friendships have been inadvertently, but I believe temporarily, shortened.

This alarms me. I don’t desire a life drained of companionship. Who does anyway? Even if I know loneliness is a legitimate feeling — people experience it at some point in their lives — God doesn’t want me to embrace it for too long. In fact, I don’t think God wants me to be lonely at all. I’m created a relational being. Everyone is. We’re all wired to forge friendships and share ourselves with others and entangle our lives with one another. But apparently, I broke from the entanglements and lost all connections.

So now that  I’m dealing with loneliness face to face, I’m forced to look into my situation, assess my relationships and how healthy I have allowed them to grow, if at all they grew, and from there, try to turn things around. Any big venture starts with small steps. And as for my loneliness, it starts with reaching out. I know for sure that ninety percent of the time, people won’t suspect someone in their circle is lonely — humans after all are so good masking their loneliness — so oftentimes it’s the lonely who needs to make the bold step of shedding the mask and nursing the loneliness with companionship. Yes, admitting loneliness is one thing, and working on it is something else.

I’m on it now, finally. And I’m glad I’m not alone in this. Lonely or not, alone or surrounded with people, I know Jesus is my ultimate friend, who keeps me company most especially when my human friendships have gone awfully awry and whose big love never fails to bring warmth to my lonely heart.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Proverbs 34:18

If you’re feeling lonely these days, I do hope you also find solace in the verse. Allow not yourself to wallow in the sad, pity-me feeling. And please try to leave your comfort zone and reestablish old friendships and build new ones, however impossible these may be in your situation.

If you’re the other group of people, happy and content now, please find people who may be feeling abandoned, alone, and downcast. Remember that lonely people don’t always make known they’re lonely. In other words, they might make things appear rosy and perfectly in place; they may even be surrounded with lots of people, and yet they’re profusely bleeding inside. Try to touch people’s lives. A hi or hello, a short message, a sincere word of affirmation can go a long way in planting a seed of encouragement and opening the door for the much-needed companionship.

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