In this season of Rush, the idea of loneliness has crossed my mind quite a bit.
I’m not ashamed to admit that this last semester I felt rather lonely. It seemed that most people delved into their new living groups and felt this sense of belonging and love on campus. And, don’t worry, I definitely feel loved here, but I wasn’t getting that feeling. It’s 90% my fault; I poured into school instead of people and I chose to be a floater and not have a defined group, anyway.
But in an effort to escape this loneliness, I have been re-rushing a Selected Living Group I was rejected from last year. Throughout this process, I’ve seen a lot of other lonely people, too. A lot of people who think the key to all of their problems rests in being accepted into a selected group of people. I’ve seen a lot of lonely people who think that being lonely is just a flip-switch. They think that with a bid that switch can be flipped from loneliness to happiness. These people throw themselves, quite literally, at different living groups because they so desperately want to escape this loneliness. And I stand back and realize how stupid we are all being. Getting accepted into these groups will not make us less lonely. In fact, are we even lonely, anyway?
What does it really mean to be lonely?
Tonight I met a woman named Allison*. A woman who redefined what I consider loneliness. Who made me feel scared, angry, happy, blessed, confused, loved, and appreciated all at the same time.
Tonight I was walking around Target looking for a gift for a friend. I stumbled across this mini chalkboard that would be a perfect addition to a desk. It’s artsy, different, and seemed like a perfect gift. I picked it up, and then quickly realized that Target didn’t sell chalk. How was I supposed to buy a chalkboard without chalk? As I stood there silently cursing the CEO of Target and all affiliates for making my life complicated and ruining a potentially perfect gift, I noticed a woman smiling at me. I turned to her (with probably a disgusted look on my face, as I was still pissed about the chalk), as she complimented me on my snow boots. I gave a halfhearted thanks, and started looking around again for a new gift.
That damn chalk, I thought.
I picked up some nail polish on the next aisle.
Too generic, I reasoned, as I looked up and saw the woman was now on the nail polish aisle, too.
Tossing the nail polish back on the shelf, a bit haphazardly, I noticed the woman was actually wearing my same boots.
Oh, no wonder she was complimenting me. I can’t believe I didn’t notice that, I laughed to myself.
As I tried to decide which candle smelled better, the cinnamon sugar or the sandy beach, the woman cleared her throat.
“Hi, um, I know this is probably weird. But I’m new to this town. I don’t know anyone. And you seem really nice, so I guess I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Allison.”
I’m sure I gave her a bewildered look. First Target didn’t sell chalk and now a random lady tried to introduce herself to me. What the Hell was going on? I was just trying to buy my friend a gift.
“Uh, yeah, um I’m Hope! It’s nice to meet you!”
She replied, “Yeah, I just, I’m kinda shy. So it’s been hard to meet people. I moved to get away from my family, because it was a bad situation, and it’s been a bit hard. Because I just don’t know anyone…”
I panicked. Was she trying to ask me for money? Was she going to, like, kidnap me? What was the point of this? What was I supposed to say???
But before I could say anything, she asked me a question: “So what are you up to? Like, what are you looking for at Target?”
I went with it.
“Just shopping for a friend… You can…. Join me if you want.” I said, slightly grimacing and hoping she’d say she was on her way out.
She smiled, a huge, warm smile, and I felt a twang of regret. I felt pity. I felt confused.
For the next twenty minutes, we roamed the aisles, as she helped me find the perfect gift. She told me about where she was from, and why she had moved here. Within just a few minutes, she found the kind of gift for which I was looking. I could tell she was very intelligent, and incredibly observant. She asked me what my friend was like, and told me how kind it was of me to be buying her a gift.
When we decided on the perfect gift, an awkward silence ensued. We both knew what this meant: it was goodbye.
“So…. Could I get your number?” She asked.
Oh no. NOW what I was supposed to say? How was she going to use my number? Was she going to stalk me?
I realized I didn’t remember her name. How could I not remember her name?!
Oh, that’s right, because I wasn’t giving her the time of day. Because I wasn’t treating her as a human. I was treating her as a little parasite. How could I be so insensitive?
She smiled, entered her contact information into my phone, and reached out to shake my hand. I shook it, and then told her, “Hey… I don’t have many recommendations on how to meet people. I’m a college student, so it’s a lot easier for me to make friends, I guess…”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, where do you go?”
That wasn’t the point. Why did she have to ask that? I didn’t want to say.
“Duke,” I sheepishly replied.
She looked down and kicked some imaginary dust. “Oh… That’s… amazing.”
I looked down, too, immediately regretting having told her that. “Anyway… I do know my church has small groups and all of these events to help young adults meet other people… I could text you the name of my church?”
She lit up. “That would be great! Wow, thank you so much! I mean, only if you have time…”
Of course I have time. It’s one text. Had anyone ever done anything for her?
I nodded, waved goodbye, paid for my gift, and left.
So many questions were running through my head.
I wondered how many times she had roamed through Target trying to make friends. I wondered how many people hadn’t given her the time of day. I wondered if she was making all of that up. Was she actually sketchy? I mean, she looked nice…
When I got back to school, I searched her name on Facebook. As a matter of fact, she was completely telling the truth. She WAS originally from Charleston; she WAS living in Durham; she WAS the age she looked to be; she had moved for the reason she said she had moved.
In that moment, I hated myself. What kind of person was I that I assumed the worst? That I assumed that she had nothing good to offer? That I was so turned off from the idea of making a new friend at Target?
I’ve been entirely into the idea of throwing myself at friends during Rush this entire month; why not at Target? What makes her any less of a person than the people I’ve been meeting this month? I don’t really know Allison. But I know she’s friendly. I know she means well. And I know that she wants to hang out. And isn’t that all I know about all these people I’m meeting during Rush?
I grabbed my phone and sent her a text:
“Hey Allison. It was great to meet you today. I’ll be at my church on Sunday, The Summit Church, on 309 W Morgan St. Would you like to come to the service with me? I could introduce you to some of the members of the church… No pressure, but wanted to invite you.”
A few minutes later, she replied with an innocent, “I will be there! Thank you!”
Allison is lonely. She knows no one in the entire city of Durham. She’s friendly, hardworking, intelligent, caring, observant, and thoughtful. She is innocent. She is going through a hard time.
How could I ever think otherwise?
I needed a serious reality check (check my old post; clearly, I’m still working on it…) if I truly think I’m lonely.
I want to be a friend to Allison. I want to go to church with her on Sunday, and I want to learn about her life. I want to tell her about mine, too. I want to introduce her to my Duke friends. I want her to feel a sense of belonging in Durham. I want her to know that I misjudged, that I am conceited, overbearing, jaded, but so, so sorry.
I have a lot to learn. I need to learn how not to use the fact that I am a college student as an excuse, how to really understand what loneliness is and what it is not, and how to be a good friend. I need to learn how to stop making snap judgments about people and how to be a little more trusting.
I am surrounded by a community of people who KNOW me. I am loved, by my friends, by my God, by my family. I may not have a defined friend group, I may not be in a certain selected living group, but I am loved and known. Allison knows absolutely no one in Durham. Her family has rejected her. Allison is crying out for help, in the only way she knows how. And I almost walked away. Actually, I almost fast walked with my full Target cart in the entire other direction. How privileged of me. How oblivious and self righteous and judgmental of me.
But I met Allison for a reason. I met Allison so that I could stop sitting around feeling sorry for myself that I don’t have a defined friend group. I met Allison so that I could understand what loneliness is and what it is not. I met Allison so that I could make a new friend. I met Allison so that I could learn the power of how scary kidnapping and mugging stories on the news taint my opinion of interactions with strangers. I met Allison so that I could learn the power of prestige, the power of guilt when I tell someone who has had fewer opportunities that I attend an expensive college. I met Allison so that I could understand that the world does actually spin outside of Duke. That there are people with real feelings, real struggles, right outside this billion-dollar campus. I met Allison so that I could take a chill pill during Rush and understand that it’s all going to be okay.
How did a young woman in Target, wearing the same boots as I am, see enough in me, through my conceited halfheartedness, to reach out and want to be my friend?
Oh, the beauty of love, forgiveness, friendship, and second chances.
*name has been changed