A couple of weeks ago, wanting a few minutes with my crossword puzzle, I entered the coffee shop. As I moved toward the counter with my mug, I passed a table where a man and a woman, both older than I, were talking. He was talking at her, actually. She was listening.
Soon, the barista brought him over to me. “You know everyone,” she said. “He’s working to help seniors find connections, and I thought … .”
He talked at me for a few minutes. He said he was working on something that will help seniors, but it’s not ready yet, he doesn’t live here and he was meeting with some attorneys to make arrangements. It was a longer story than I wanted to listen to. But he told me he’d talked to that woman and explained what he was doing, and he said she told him how lonely she was.
She told a strange man how lonely she was. Yow.
I asked the barista later if she had recognized that lonely woman, and she said yes. “We get a lot of lonely people in here,” she said.
A lot of lonely people. Hmm.
I have this to say about lonely people … to lonely people — of every age, 11 to 90. I understand. It’s wretched. The longer you feel that way, the lonelier you feel, and — in my experience — you become convinced that you deserve to feel lonely. After a while, the less willing or eager or interested you are to do something to feel any other way. So you’re caught stuck in this revolving door.
And if you can’t talk yourself out of it, you find yourself talking yourself into isolating yourself further. You’re convinced that you can’t offer anyone anything, can’t hold up your end of a conversation, don’t know how to approach people.
Loneliness leads to more loneliness. It’s awful. Lifting yourself up out of this predicament takes energy and confidence. And if you’re lonely, you have neither of those things.
I wanted to tell this lonely woman about Silver Screen (the first Saturday of the month at the Auburn Library, auburnsilverscreen.com). But I couldn’t, because she’d gone. So I went home and thought about solutions to loneliness — what could be a solution that would work for everyone?
I can’t take that first step for anyone — I can’t talk anyone into believing that they don’t deserve loneliness, that they deserve something else that feels better.
But I can encourage people to volunteer. People need help. So help them. Organizations need help. So help them. Schools and hospitals need help. So help them. Even if you’re lonely and are therefore convinced that nobody would be interested in your help.
I had five minutes a few days ago. I started jotting down the kinds of organizations that could use the help of people interested in helping — no matter how they feel about themselves. I filled a whole page, and I never even got to the service groups.
The Symphony League, the fundraising and encouragement arm of the Symphony (auburnsymphony.com).
The State Theatre (livefromauburn.com).
The Armed Forces Pavilion and Community Garden (email@example.com).
Friends of the Auburn Library (folauburn.org).
Placer Adult Literacy Service (PALS@placer.ca.gov).
Linda LoBou’s Sight Word Busters (sightwordbusters.org), which asks for volunteers to help children learn to read.
Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital (sutterhealth.org/ways-to-give).
The Boys and Girls Club of Placer County (530-889-2273).
And investigate placer.ca.gov/government/volunteers — several county agencies would love more volunteers, including museums, the District Attorney, animal services and the Sheriff’s Office.
Auburn Police would appreciate volunteers, as well: auburn.ca.gov/168/Police, and click on Volunteers.
And there’s the Senior Center (auburnseniorcenter.com) and Seniors First (seniorsfirst.org).
And for teens and young adults: Auburn Hip Hop Congress. Investigate their Facebook page. The more I learn about this group, the prouder I am to live here.
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: wilpf.org. Contact the Sacramento Branch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Silver Screen Classic Movies (the first Saturday of the month at the Auburn Library) could use a couple more popcorn poppers: email@example.com.
And there’s Team Giving, a local organization that matches volunteers with nonprofit organizations: teamgiving.org.
Finally: investigate the Fourth Annual Community Service Day. There’s a Facebook Page: facebook.com/AuburnCommunityServiceDay; and there’s a website: teamgiving.org/AuburnCommunityServiceDay.
See? And there are tons of others. The more you look, the more you find, and I haven’t even touched the service groups.
All of these organizations — and others — want your body, your interest, your help, your energy. They don’t pass judgment. They don’t care how you feel about yourself. They don’t care about your politics or where you used to live or how much money you have. They don’t care what you look like. They just want you, as long as you’re willing to give them your time and careful attention.
And a lovely thing happens as a result: You realize you’re needed and welcome. As you become more useful, you become less lonely. And the less lonely you feel, the more you’re convinced you don’t deserve to be lonely.
You make a difference to yourself by making a difference to others.
Susan Rushton’s opinion column appears regularly in the Auburn Journal. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.