Sometimes it's Just Rummikub
We live in lonely times. Young or old, rich or poor, alone or in a room full of people, any one of us might be lonely at any time. So what’s new? Perhaps this has always been the case, to an extent. But on top of this, we live in an age where we have started talking about loneliness in a particular way. Rather than speaking about people, real life actual people we know - friends, neighbours, colleagues, and family - there is a kind of other-ing language emerging. We’re not lonely, of course, it’s them over them.
The rally cry goes up to ‘tackle loneliness’ and ‘combat social isolation’. Good shout, I think. Count me in. But in my (well intended) hurry to stamp out the unwanted intruder of loneliness to society I wonder if I might just miss my neighbour. Not now, I think, as I march past a neighbour who looks tired (again) and ready to chat (still), I’m listening to a podcast on ‘Having Conversations that Matter’. I can always stop and chat another time, I think.
Mulling over what loneliness means - both as I find it in myself and observe it in others - I am reminded of the quote attributed to Gustavo Gutierrez, ‘You say you care about the poor? Then tell me, what are their names?’ I wonder if we might ask the same question about loneliness?
You say you care about the lonely? Then tell me, what are their names?
A silly question we might think, because how can we really know who is lonely? For a while older people have been thought of as the most lonely in society - and plenty are - but research is showing that proportionally, older people are the least lonely. We may have fewer connections in our later years, but if those connections are ones that have stood the test of time, then I’ll take those, thanks. I wonder if an organisation exists where older people reach out to lonely younger people? Goodness knows young as well as old could do with a little lot of encouragement to keep on keeping on.
I recently read that almost 2 in 3 people don’t have a single friend who are 30 or more years older or younger than them. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that there are fewer opportunities than in the past to meet people in different age groups. If this is the case, any inter-generational initiatives and groups are to be encouraged if they create opportunities for connections across the ages. But surely the goal must be to create spaces for authentic connections beyond introductions, not simply social experiments or gimmicks.
Today I had lunch with some friends. From youngest to oldest, there were over 60 years between us. I chuckled as I considered our time together might be framed by today’s anti-lonesome lingo as a community-led, grassroots initiative to combat loneliness and social isolation. But that isn’t what was happening really. Mainly we just had lunch and played Rummikub.
(Reflection written in October 2018)