Loneliness? Not on My Watch
Virginia Lane was our bike street. All the kids met there. There was absolutely no traffic on Virginia Lane except for Mr. Stair who owned the only drive way on the street. He had a detached garage about in the middle of the lane and if you were lucky enough to be out playing after 5 PM, you would see Mr. Stair - Marv - pull into his driveway.
We were young and we would laugh when Marv Stair drove by. He would roll down his window and drive real slow as we shuffled our bikes, trikes and scooters to the curb. He would smile as wide as a clown and put one hand up, turning the wrist to wave like a politician in a parade. Everyone had eye contact with him.
When his garage door went down, we’d burst into laughter and do the crazy smile, the wrist wave to each other.
“Do the Marv Stair!!” we’d scream until he walked out the side door of his garage and his lanky legs would stride across the lawn up to his house. At which point we would all go silent until he got into the house.
We always had a group. It may not have been best friends. But there was always a group to play with on Virginia Lane. This is the 60s and 70s when you could walk outside and find someone to do something with. Any day. When every neighbor knew what you were up to, knew your political affiliation but still befriended you, knew your family and when your Grandma died, knew your kids, and knew whether or not you might need a hamburger casserole to get through the week.
To be a neighbor meant you gladly burdened yourself with the wants and woes and losses of others…even the wrongs. We were a society of people-people.
In the 80s I commuted on the train. I knew most the faces on the 5:34. Said hello or at least smiled at almost everyone. I knew the lawyer got off in Evanston. The bald man in Glenview. The lady with the ever present Jewel Osco bag left at Deerfield. There was a group of commuters who arranged the train car seats to play cards. They knew who was on vacation and where, who needed a pep talk, who needed to be left alone. They invited everyone to play.
I feel so old or old fashioned or boring talking about all this. But a headline brought all this to mind recently.
58% of All Adults Are Lonely
The 58% number is after the pandemic. It was only a few percentage points higher during the pandemic! Most of these lonely adults are aged 18 - 24. Teens, the article said, have felt lonely for a long time.
To be lonely is not a new feeling. Surely, people were lonely in the 60s - 80s. But it all seems worse now. And we all know why.
People are writing about the phenom like crazy. There are people combatting loneliness. There’s a group who actively engages in a practice called “extreme hospitality”. This is where kind people recruit all the singles, all the family-less, all the marginalized folks that may live near them. They invite them into their homes - say, every Sunday - for dinner and community. Maybe they invite someone down and out to stay in a spare room until that person finds a place to stay. They are open to everyone. These folks know what society and smart phones and Instagram are doing to people today.
We are a society of not feeling connected, of missing out. Lonely.
There is no word worse than lonely. It spears my heart.
I walk down the street now, adjust my podcast. A neighbor later tells me she saw me walking. How did I miss her? So I try to wave more. One day I experiment with this and no one waves back. Well, I figure, if they aren’t going to say hi - then either am I. Back to the podcast. It’s so damn easy to conform.
Back in the 60s on Virginia Lane we all jumped over a very poorly constructed bike jump one day that the older kids, like my brother and Davy Brown, built. We all fell and hurt ourselves. Some bikes were pummeled.
That night my Dad asked me “why did you do it after you saw everyone fall?” Of course we blamed Davy Brown. Of course that didn’t fly.
“If Davey Brown jumped off the Empire State Building would you?” Dad asked.
The Empire State Building was always an example of extreme back then.
I heard my Dad’s voice on my walk today and decided to turn off the podcast. “To conform” is a passive verb. I decide to get extreme. A lady and a golden retriever approached me on Conway Road and I put up my hand, twisting my wrist, and smiled as wide as a clown. I did the Marv Stair. No one’s going to be lonely on my watch, I thought.
It’s a start.