Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Isolation in America

Of course I chose the loneliest profession around, writing.  It's just me myself and I when I do this work.  That's probably the reason I want to go into teaching, because I like the idea that the classroom is a kind of community.

I feel like there is a lack of community in the United States and maybe even in the world.  I mean I live in a condo-complex and I have said "hello" to everyone who lives there, but I don't know any of them, I don't socialize with any of them.  I go to the same coffee shops and bookstores every day.  I find that the chain type of coffee shops, the ones that are so American, are where strangers rarely talk to one another.  It's only at the independent coffee shops that I find very independent people who seem to think of the place as a community.

We, in this country, rarely step out of our comfort zones to talk to people we don't know just because they are there.  Our community usually consists of people we work with, went to school with, or grew up with.  These are our friends.

Yet there are people outside of my circle that I would like to befriend. There is a very interesting looking man who works at Panera Bread, his accent tells me he's probably from somewhere in Africa.  He's a very dedicated worker who doesn't speak English very well.  I would love to talk to him so he could tell me stories about where he came from.  I wish it wouldn't be weird for me to talk to a man I don't know.

I'm not saying we should go around talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry for no apparent reason.  But it would be nice if we got to know our neighbors, the people who frequent the coffee shops and restaurants we go to.  It would be nice if it weren't "weird" to start talking to a complete stranger for no reason.

I love strangers, actually, a little too much I've been told.  When I first moved to a real city, Washington D.C. I was still naive and talked to anyone who would talk to me.  I met a man on the train who told me stories about how he worked for the CIA and knew secrets than even the president didn't know.  Of course it later occurred to me that he was probably lying because if he knew stuff even the president didn't know, why was he telling me?

Then there was the guy at the bus stop who started telling me about how is brother married a Mormon after he was let out of jail.  I suppose you shouldn't convict someone in your head because their brother was in jail, but he then told me about how skateboarding was his passion in life and that he wanted to skate board around the world.

Nothing wrong with that.  I think the problem that my friends had with me talking to complete strangers was that they could potentially be weirdos that could follow me around or stalk me or harm me in some way.

Yet I love the rush of meeting someone new.  I met a guy at the coffee shop recently who read my Tarot Cards.  I don't know if I believe in Tarot Cards or if I believe that this particular man could really read them, but is was fascinating to me that he had the guts to try and tell me personal details of my future.  I didn't pay him, I just listened.  I definitely learned more about him than he did about me.

Right now, because I'm a student and a writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops where people from all walks of life gather.  Most people are too busy to want to chat, but there are people who will bring out their laptops as well or bring a book with them and sit for hours.  Chatting with these people now and then brings me great joy, I love to get to know almost anyone.

Right now there is an elderly woman sitting alone, drinking her coffee and reading the paper.  I don't know why, but something about her mannerisms screams that she is lonely.  I want to approach her, but there is no language in our culture that allows us to just come up to someone and talk to them for no reason.

I don't know if there is a way in any culture, a way to sit next to someone and just say, "I understand."

Because the more we rely on our phones, our computers and our other gadgets, the more we disengage with the people around us.

Isolation can be a hop skip and jump away from depression.  So watch yourself.  And watch other people.  Look at them and wonder if you can maybe change their day just by saying hello.


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