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.

Miss me? Miss you, too!

Monday, June 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m not used to receiving too many birthday greetings, for the simple reason that not too many people know my birthday. So you can imagine how thrilling it is for me to receive lots of greetings on my recent birthday, albeit in the virtual world.

You know how it is on Facebook. Facebook announces to your friends it’s your birthday and encourages them all to say a greeting. Some of my Facebook friends—from my closest of friends to the people I’ve never heard from for a long time and to those who’ve never known my birthday—were such a sweetie and left short greetings on my wall. It’s a heartwarming act, I have to say. But what made my heart do a cartwheel were birthday messages that were punctuated with “I miss you” or its variation. Their number surprised me. Two to three people saying they miss you is sort of normal, especially since people nowadays have come to casually use that term of affection. But receiving “I miss you’s” from more than three people is something, a rare chance, not unless you (or your friends) are in a faraway place or in a situation where people have legitimate reasons to miss your presence.

This greeting from a friend/former officemate could have been deafening.

This greeting from a friend/former officemate could have been deafening.

I’m not in a faraway place. I’m very much accessible. So I was taken aback by these messages. But I guess there’s no reason for me to be surprised; the “I miss you’s” remind me of what I already know: I’ve been out of touch for a long time. Although I’m not expecting that all the “I miss you’s” are a call for a meet-up, I feel that they are telling me I’ve spent a significant time with these people and now we’re drifting apart. Oh, well. Life. But what these people don’t know is that the feeling is mutual: I miss them, too.

Another deafening holler; this time from a church friend.

Another deafening holler; this time from a church friend.

I work from home, and, in essence, this means isolation. No officemates. No after-office hangouts. No office parties. No everything. It’s just me and my laptop. It’s a sad setup, I know. But it’s a setup that I’ve embraced, for this is where I thrive. I’m not complaining, because although I’m locked up pretty much the whole day, I’m glad that I don’t have to go through what people have to when going to and from work.

Still, there’s the isolation issue I have to deal with. And these “I miss you” messages seem to nag me about this one thing that will make my social life breathing again: Visibility! Yes, it’s time I make myself visible. I have detached myself for too long, and if I continue with this, I’m afraid I’d be reduced to a hermit and eventually forget how to relate to people other than my family, which in the process might make my friends drift farther away. That would be a sad life.

So now here’s the plan: At least schedule one day of the week for meet-ups with certain people to catch up, dine together, see a movie, go somewhere, or do anything of my/my friends’ fancy. If going out four days a month seems quite expensive, then hang out with friends at least two days in a month. Or if this is also not possible, mark at least one day out of 30/31 days for a hangout. One day, for heaven’s sake! One day!

Initiating meet-ups, I know, is a little taxing. People are not always free on the same day after all, and it’s sometimes frustrating to find a date that all parties will agree on. I tell you, I’ve had scheduled meet-ups that were moved to later dates several times until they were forgotten. I understand whatever caused the delays and the eventual cancellation, but I had hoped the meet-ups materialized. So now that I have this Operation Visibility, I have to be persistent to push the hangouts through. And if there are other concerns that make them impossible, I shouldn’t give up too easily. I have to make Plan B or Plan C until I get to see my friends’ faces. I have to take this operation seriously. Seriously!

How successful I expect this to be? I have no idea. I even don’t know what my friends’ reception would be. But let’s not think of that. Now that the Operation Visibility is in place, my primary concern is, “Who should I meet first?”

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