Musings by Regena Handy
The memory has stuck with me for years.
My brother and I were in the reception area of the VA Hospital in Salem awaiting his doctor’s appointment. The middle-aged man and young woman briefly caught my attention when they arrived, her more so than him as she was obviously ill.
I was reading a magazine to pass the time and paying little notice to those around me until snippets of the conversation began to seep into my consciousness.
The woman apparently required immediate attention as she was quickly whisked away in a wheelchair. We were seated near the check-in desk and it was the conversation between the man and hospital employee filling out admittance papers that I inadvertently overheard.
The employee asked several questions for which the man had no answers. He didn’t really know the young woman’s situation. Didn’t know why she had called him early that morning and asked him to drive her to the VA Hospital. Yes, she had dated his son a few times in high school but the family had not seen nor heard from her in several years, though he was aware she’d served in the military since then. Finally, he added, that apparently she just didn’t have anyone else to call.
This incident happened well over 20 years ago yet has occasionally flitted through my mind at odd times. I know nothing about the man, other than seemingly he must have been kind enough to help an almost stranger in a time of need. I know nothing about the young woman other than the impression she was so alone that she had to resort to depending on a kindness probably recognized from years before. And I certainly know nothing about what happened beyond what I’ve told here.
One memorable movie line that I can quote is from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the story of country music legend Loretta Lynn. In an attempt to console a forlorn fan seeking a conversation with the star constantly on tour, Tommy Lee Jones as Loretta’s husband commiserated that “there are a lot of lonely people in the world.” It was obvious from his tone of voice that despite his good fortune, he was one of those people.
Being alone and being lonely are not one and the same. To be by ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean we are lonesome, just as we can feel friendless even while surrounded by others. I enjoy bouts of solitude; my sanity demands it, in fact. A sentiment shared by others, I would imagine.
Whether or not we will admit it, we are all lonely at times. Yet many of us are loath to reveal our loneliness, as if it is a shameful failing instead of just part of the human condition. Novelist C. S. Lewis said “We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness….”
In most situations, if we are lucky, loneliness is just a temporary state. We pass through the phase, reconnecting with family and friends with which we are blessed. But regarding those who are truly alone and lonely—some of us are probably mulling the question of whether we are the kind of person that such a young woman could call early one morning for help.
I’d like to think I would be.