It still sits in the cup holder of my car. In unsteady handwriting, “Linda” with a phone number. I keep thinking I should give her a call.
Linda is a 70-something I met on the train a few weeks ago. Absorbed in my own world, distracted by a multitude of things going on in my own life, I was relieved to sit down on the train after a stressful day. I had my book and roughly an hour to decompress.
I don’t think I’m unlike many of you in that respect. We sit, keeping to ourselves on the bus or the train, lost in our own thoughts and the myriad circumstances that make up our private lives. Most people couldn’t guess at what is going on in our heads, let alone in our lives.
But I do believe the Lindas of the world might be here to save us from ourselves.
Linda sat down next to me despite a bevy of empty seats in my train car. It was mid-afternoon, a gloomy rainy day. She immediately extended her hand, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Linda.” I introduced myself and smiled, shaking her hand. And then attempted to open my book.
“I just ran, really, all the way from the hospital downtown,” she said, breathlessly. “I’m a breast cancer survivor, 20 years. And my mammogram today was all clear!” She got tears in her eyes as she said the last bit.
As I told her how wonderful that was and how happy I was for her, she smiled. And then I tried again to open my book, not so much because I wanted to read but because I needed a place to stare so I could sort through the thoughts in my head about what was going on in my own life.
“I used to be a hairdresser, you know,” she said. And then: “Do you mind my talking to you like this?” To be honest, there was no way I could tell her I minded at all. Her happiness in the moment and her obvious need to talk spoke volumes. I can be preoccupied but I’m not obtuse; Linda needed to chat. I set the book aside.
She told me how her husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s shortly after she finished cancer treatment. How “back then” the disease really wasn’t well researched. How when he died, they closed the school at her church so a proper funeral could be held. It seems her husband was quite well loved by the church families.
That led to her talk about God. Her faith had gotten her through a lot, she said. But she now quibbles with God because he has left her lonely. Her kids live in another state, as do her grandkids—and it doesn’t sound like they visit much. Her best friend now doesn’t really go out because of complications from a hip replacement. “We used to have adventures together,” she said. “Go into the city and see a show. Try a new restaurant or eat at our favorite.” She has a hard time doing things alone, she said. “It’s just more lonely, even out of the house.”
I learned so much more that I won’t share here. Suffice to say, Linda—like all of us—has a story. Remarkable because it is hers but unremarkable in its own right. As so many of ours are. Days strung together doing very ordinary things until—a diagnosis. Or a childbirth. Or a death. The days in between, really, are where the living take place. But I think we forget that.
When I told Linda my stop was next up, she hastily dug for paper and pen in her purse. “We should get together some time, Kristine. Maybe we could go to that restaurant in your town you were telling me I should try?”
I smiled and said of course we should. I dutifully wrote my name and number on the piece of paper she offered me. And we said our farewells.
Such a happy person, I thought to myself. If there were more Lindas in the world who would reach out to break the general isolation, maybe we’d all fare a bit better. My father was a chatter. He brought light into people’s days when he got to the serious art of talking.
And then I happened to catch sight of Linda through the train glass, and I saw her face. The animation she had shown while talking to me was gone, replaced by a slightly sad look. Even the Lindas have their crosses to bear. I realized perhaps her head had been as full of unwelcome distractions as mine. That the weight she was feeling might have equaled mine that day.
That brings us to why her number still sits in my car cup holder. I do not really have the time right now even for my close friends, so I hesitate to bring a new “friend” into my precious free time. And yet, the look on her face remains with me. She made a valiant effort to reach out in her isolation. The least I can do is return the favor.
I’ll keep you posted. I’m hoping my better half prevails.
Thanks to all of you who asked where I’ve been and if all was ok. Those pesky adult responsibilities we sometimes call life got in the way of my first love, writing. But I’m still here. Still ticking. Still thankful for all of you.
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Oh, my heart aches for her. It was nice that she had you to talk to for that bit. It sounds like she really needed to tell someone part of her story.
I think so many of us need just that!
This is such an interesting post, K. Please keep us updated. I think loneliness must be one of the toughest things.
I️ certainly will, Cynthia. I️ think loneliness is far too common!
This post gave me some thoughtful minutes, Kay, as I reflected on my behavior. I tend to radiate “please don’t talk to me signals” in situations like the one you describe. But now and then someone breaks through my barriers and I realize how much I enjoyed the ensuing conversation. Then I go back to my isolationist ways. It’s a conflict I have, because I also believe our country would be less tribal if we took the time to talk to one another.
I️ think so many of us radiate that same vibe because technology and the pace of life have us always on. I’m hoping we find our way to balance, as I️ agree we need more real connection.
I love this story and I want to hug Linda for being all that she is in spite of what life has put in front of her. If you do find the time to meet with her, I hope you’ll let us know how it goes. Life has a funny way of placing people in our lives when we least expect it and in ways we never imagined.
I️ will certainly keep you posted!
Touching. Loneliness is one tough load even if it didn’t saddle health issues. I also understand you had too much on your mind to be hungry for company (that’s me, usually). Glad to see you’re still ticking. Yes, I hear your heartbeat.
I think loneliness just runs rampant now–despite technology seeming to connect us. There’s a reason people used to live in tribes. Support! The human touch.
Sadly, sometimes we don’t have the wherewithal to reach out or reach back.
What a great post. I know the feeling about bringing another friend into your life. Friends need time and attention, not something we all have in abundance. Still, Linda sounds like a special case. Maybe a cup of coffee once in a while might soothe both of you.
I keep thinking the same–could I just squeeze in an hour or so. I certainly would hope someone would do that for me if I were in her shoes and reached out.
You’re definitely in the majority opinion!
Ah that’s good of you Kristine. Not all of us would have been as accommodating and kind. Sad how loneliness can affect so many, even in a crowded city. And yes, tied up in our own lives and immediate concerns we forget that we are all in this short and fleeting life together.
I still regret once in Dublin, fed up of being approached for money every couple of minutes, ignoring yet another approach. The guy was a tourist looking for directions and I’d normally have been happy to help, but by that time I was conditioned to walk on by.
I think so many us are conditioned to be in our own worlds now, Roy, particularly because we sit with our heads buried in our devices. We all need to unplug more and pay attention to our basic humanity/connection.
I was very moved reading your post. As I get older, I notice more people of similar age are alone. They have faced family deaths, children moving on, etc. as you described. I am a Church goer and some of those folks I have come across have an opportunity to meet and make friends over coffee. But someone like you described, willing to jump into conversation to a stranger, creates a different, sadder image. I notice when I food shop that older folks often say Hi to me. I don’t have an answer. But you got me thinking. If nothing else, maybe I should reach out more to those Church members. Thank you – Spyro
I think a lot of us suffer from isolation because we are no longer close geographically to our core family. But you are right-it seems the elderly suffer the most this way. I think I will have to meet Linda again, or I will feel really badly about it.
Such an interesting story Kristine, we all meet those people who try to engage with us and maybe we half-heartedly listen, but it never usually leads to anything else. You sound as though you shared a connection with Linda that maybe should be continued…
Despite the voice inside of me that says, “no time,” I think I will probably end up reaching out, Andrea. I just can’t get the look on her face through the train glass out of my mind . . .
Bless her heart. The way you described how the sadness left her face, broke my heart. The only thing I can think is that she saw something in you that brought her comfort and safety, and that you helped her to feel hopeful and whole. That in itself is was a gift, even if only for a moment. Beautiful, Kristine.
Thank you:). I guess we all have masks at times. When hers dropped, it broke my heart too. It’s why I’ve kept her number!
You’ve got me thinking a lot about chance encounters and the challenges we face when it comes to our dealings with others.My initial thought is that this is a lot like the pre-flight instructions from a flight attendant. Make sure to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting another.
Now there is a voice of reason :-). The overwhelming sentiment has been that I should contact Linda because there is a reason for this chance encounter. Part of me wants to believe that. The other part of me says that I have so much on my plate right now that I should really take care of that before adding to the mix. The two sides are having a bit of a Convo and I’ll let you know who wins.
There are times when we need to reach out. There are times when we are the needy ones. Both are valid and important approaches to human encounters. Sometimes women overlook their own needs. All compassion is special, important and laudable. But please know it’s also okay to make sure your personal oxygen flow is working before reaching out. Your heart always is with others. That theme resonates in your writing. Make sure you think of yourself as well. In the long run, that is critical to the well-being of others you will cross paths with in the future. And keep Linda’s contact information. Maybe a brief note at some point? That will also help you continue thinking good thoughts about yourself and how you share your compassion.
I wonder how Linda is today? Lovely post, thank you Kristine.
Funny–I wondered the same thing:).
Looking forward to how things go! Follow your heart and respect your gut.
Wise words. You, like me, know how important gut feeling is. I’ll follow mine!
Ahhh! The wisdom of strangers. I believe in signs. I believe in lessons, too. Maybe she was an angel? No matter what you call her you let her in…and kindness is always rewarded! I was happy to see you in my inbox! Thanks for sharing. Be well internet friend. xo
I’d love to believe she was an angel:-). And I too believe in signs and lessons. I’m just having a bit of a back-and-forth with universe on its timing :-).
Why is timing NEVER good?
That’s a universal truth! (And a Murphy’s Law.)
The universe likes to surprise us, doesn’t it? 🙂
It was so funny (I am determined to someday stop saying it that way). While I was reading this, I was thinking that we can’t save everybody from woe…but maybe our kindness will save one person!
And imagine the results if we each did that for just one person!
I hope that you do find the time and space to reach out to Linda. I’m sure she’d appreciate whatever further connection you can manage even if it’s just a phone call or brief lunch here and there.
My dad had a way of picking up strays when I was growing up. One of them was an elderly lady named Catherine. I don’t know much about her but we would pick her up and take her to church meetings and out to dinner. Sometimes she would want to stop at a store or for another errand. My dad would graciously acquiesce. As a kid it wasn’t always my favorite thing, being dragged around just to humor this old stranger, but in retrospect I realize we may have been the only people she would see in a week. The joy that spending a few hours every week or two with our family brought her was worth the mild inconvenience it might have been to us. I’m grateful that my dad could see that and took the opportunity to actively show us kids how to be compassionate and connect with people who desperately need it. You never really know the difference you’re making when you share a little bit of time with someone.
Oh, your dad sounds like a wonderful man. After that story, how can I not call her? 🙂 has
It sounds like your soul longs for connection. I hope that you will be able to put aside all the reasons not to renew this connection.
I think I am to the point in life where there are so many connections that are anything but soul based, the soul based connections are like cool water down a parched throat :-).
It sounds to me like you made a promise that may be hard to keep, and may be hard to break, but in the moment, you were there and gave in the present.
What a beautiful way to look at it :-). And knowing the way my parents raised me, I’ll have to keep it. Otherwise, the guilt will eat me up.
With that being said, I suspect one day, you’ll know when. And so it will be!
Angels come in many guises Kristine, and usually it is for us to learn something, even though we think we are helping them 😀
Who knows, maybe the man at the next table at the restaurant you go to will be your soulmate 😀
Angels are very cunning 😀 ❤
Are you looking into your crystal ball again, Mr. Lanesbury? 🙂
lol…who, me? 😀
A beautiful reminder to be in the moment Kristine. I think sometimes we are our own worse enemies. My parents moved interstate to be near us a year ago. Nothing easy about that move, after living in their home town for 80yrs it took courage and a lot of patience and strength to get here, but they did it! and they have never looked back and have family around them now and we love being with them . Linda has had some difficult experiences in life, but she has also made some choices too, that had brought her to this moment of loneliness. Doing what is right for our needs takes courage and although it seems difficult at the time, it’s worth the effort. Do what is right for you. Glad you are back on board 💕💚
Good for your parents! That does take courage at their age. Especially because I think as we age, familiarity grows in value. I hope you’re able to enjoy this stage of life with them. Miss my folks dearly.
Oh I hope you find time to call her, if for no other reason to tell her you enjoyed meeting her and maybe arrange a date for a real visit in a few months time when life is a little bit less hectic? I think knowing you appreciated meeting her would warm her heart. And for some reason, I think you both have a lot more to share with one another.
I was thinking the same. Who doesn’t have an hour or two to spare for tea together, right?
Glad to hear all is well. You were missed. Your Linda experience is typical of older people who cherish the art of conversation and connection, untied to computers and cell phones. You provided a wonderful service as a listener. We all have our “problems”, thoughts, concerns yet you reached out as a listener. I know that it was appreciated.
“You were missed.” Thank you:). It’s nice to be missed. And you’re right–the older generation knows what being unplugged feels like. We need more of that!
Thanks for another honest and vulnerable post. It’s hard to engage when we need to decompress, but you seem to have done a nice job of being present with Linda. Kudos!
Thank you:). I think if we could all move out of ourselves a bit more and engage with each other, we’d find more of our basic humanity as a culture.
Yes, and as an introvert who needs time to recharge, this is sometimes very hard to do as you did on the train.