Lonely in a Crowd
Just today I was sitting on the uptown 2 train when another lonely man entered. Let’s call him James. He was a young guy, maybe early 20s, and clearly very upset about something. He was angry in that both private and public way when you want to scream, but you stifle it, and the energy escapes your body in the motion of your sighs, shrugs, waves, and slumps. His mouth would repeatedly and instinctively open to start arguing with someone who wasn’t present, but then his social awareness would kick in enough that he would swallow the sound just in time, once again transferring that energy into an exasperated wave of his hands.
The doors closed behind James, and he sat down on the floor, square in the center of the doorway on the crowded train car and reclined against the double doors. He then began fiddling with his clothes. He grabbed the bottom of his white undershirt with both hands and fluttered it strangely, not even in a way that seemed like it might be cooling him off. He unbuckled his pants and slid them down a bit until he was sitting in his boxers on the floor with his belt loops at mid-thigh. For a second I was worried he was going to masturbate or pull the boxers down too and relieve himself right there on the floor. His behavior was that odd.
Something didn’t fit, though. I could see in James’ eyes that he was lucid; that he hadn’t lost his mind, but rather the control of his emotions. He looked very upset and hurt about something, and it seemed as if he was trying to hide it with bravado. His method of dealing with that hurt was to show the world that he didn’t give a damn what anybody thought, and to prove it he would act as crazy as he wanted. This was to be his reclaiming of whatever power he must have recently lost or had taken from him.
The train car came to a stop again and the doors opened. People streamed on, squeezing through the entryway past James on either side, stepping over his extended legs, sighing to themselves and rolling their eyes at the inconvenience and bizarreness of the situation as well as at his rudeness. Nobody looked directly at him or said a word.
The passengers all got situated and picked their respective spots on the wall at which to stare as James again leaned against the closing doors. He shifted a bit when the train started moving, and a few cards (credit card, ID, things of that nature) fell out of one of his pockets and onto the floor. He didn’t notice, but I did, and so did the man sitting on the bench nearest him. The man and I both waited a moment, glanced at each other to discern whose duty it was to inform the kid, and finally the man grudgingly and quickly pointed at the cards so James would take heed. With an annoyed grimace and not a word in response, James picked up the cards and put them in another pocket as the man gladly returned to looking in the other direction.
As I watched him sitting there, it occurred to me that while James may have thought he was saying “Fuck You” to the rest of the world with his behavior, he was really testing us. He was crying out for attention in the loudest way he knew how, and nobody was giving it to him. In that moment I realized how lonely James was feeling, even if he didn’t, and I wanted to somehow let him know.
I had one stop left, so I got up and quickly squashed the fear that James might be truly unstable or out of control and attack me for speaking to him. I stood facing him, leaned over, and said something inspired like: “Hey man. How are you?”
“Ok,” he mumbled after staring up at me, surprised, for a long five seconds.
“Hey, it looks like you’re upset, like you’re going through something rough. I just want you to know that you’re not alone.”
He stared up at me as I reached out my hand intending to help him up. He reached back and shook it, mumbling “I’m all right man,” and returned to looking straight ahead, maybe trying to decide if he should feel insulted by what I had just done.
It was good enough for me, and the train was slowing into my station anyway. The doors opened and I got off, stepping around James and past the sea of entering riders. When I was out of the way, I stopped and looked back at him. He kept staring ahead, sitting there on the ground, and the other passengers got situated and found their new spots on the walls on which to concentrate for another stretch of tunnel.
I hope he stood up soon, I hope he felt somewhere inside the love I was trying to share with him, and I hope it helped even a little with whatever he was going through in his personal life to know that someone cared.
James is not a rare type of person. In fact, I bet every single one of you who is reading this can absolutely relate to those feelings of extreme loneliness, whether you dealt with it like like James or in some other way. There are many types of loneliness, and we’ve all experienced it to some degree at some time in our lives, from the stargazer looking up into the Milky Way on a clear night in the woods to the inmate slamming a fist into the wall out of terrifying boredom after a month in solitary confinement listening to neighboring cells doing the same.
For those of us living in a big city, we also understand all too well this paradox of utter invisibility amidst a sea of eyes. What’s so often lost and even avoided here is human connection. We’ve become so scared of unpleasant or inconvenient confrontations that we block out all encounters, anything that would require or allow an opening of our hearts or a showing of our trust. We travel through this world like bits of data being sent individually to our separate destinations. What has been misplaced here is Love, and that is why we are so often lonely. Loneliness is quite literally the lack of love, and so Love is the opposite of loneliness. Love squashes solitude and beats back isolation.
You might be inclined to argue that hate is actually the opposite of Love, but I would say you’re mistaken. Hate is just Love under different circumstances.
“But what about,” you might ask, “that jerk on your block who intentionally leaned into you with his shoulder, unprovoked, just to be intimidating? What about unrepentant thieves, murderers, and pedophiles? What about Hitler? I just hate them, and Love doesn’t enter into the picture.” Again, I would disagree.
Hate is what we feel when something we love causes us pain. As human beings, we naturally bear within us a certain Love for humanity, for what it should be, and these terrible individuals have let us down and bruised our hearts. They have betrayed the brotherhood that we can’t help but feel for them as fellow people of this planet. They have assaulted our sense of justice, goodness, and beauty. It is because we love them as members of mankind that we can hate them as individuals. Hate is Love, mangled.
So what, then, is Love in this context? Love is togetherness.
You can find this idea as the basis in any religious doctrine, for that is what all religions are truly about. Each is one culture’s interpretation, often misunderstood and mistranslated over the years, of the idea that we are all better working with each other, that true prosperity and purpose for mankind comes through Love and unity.
Originally published at www.facebook.com, now severely edited.