“All great and precious things are lonely.” John Steinbeck
I think people forget, sometimes, that loneliness knows no age. It doesn’t settle for the old, or the young but satisfies itself only in any and every. If this pandemic has taught us anything as a people, it is that we are not meant to be solitary creatures. We cannot thrive alone. We cannot survive alone. And we shouldn’t have to.
Though I don’t talk about it often, I am a teacher, blessed with 105 middle school minds this year. They are snarky and sarcastic. They are witty and wonderful. They are tired and grumpy, excited and funny. But most of all … they are lonely.
In a world where the satisfaction of an answer is instant, and the gratification of working something out over time doesn’t exist, it can be hard for any of us to feel value beyond the moment. When you are twelve and thirteen years old, your brain is first becoming capable of metacognition … of thinking about thinking – of registering your feelings and taking stock of what to make of them. Now imagine doing that when your parents are working, when you can only see friends through a screen, and your teachers aren’t only a hallway away. This is the reality we are in. Balancing safety with sanity. There is no right or wrong … only stuck – all of us in a purgatory of waiting for we don’t know what, or when exactly.
It is hard. It is hard not to hug. It’s hard not to squeeze a shoulder or toss a smile freely that isn’t swallowed up by a mask.
Nearby, there is a thriving retirement community … filled with amazing individuals with stories that span a generation. Tucked inside of brilliant minds, behind silver strands, are thoughts and wisdom just waiting to be imparted on any ears that would have time for a story.
My students were asked to write a letter, to take a chance on a multigenerational friendship. Now, over two hundred letters later … I am reading hope, personified. I am reading the curious questions of children who are stretching and reaching for answers from memories and hands that are willing to write them. From tales of what school was like eighty-seven years ago, to new and old book titles recommended. No matter how many letters pass through my inbox, no matter how long it takes me to read and send, read and send, I cannot stop smiling as each word, each hope, and each wish is shared.
Loneliness knows no age, and these sweet pen pals, some over eighty years apart, are forming friendships that also know no age. Author Tom Bodett says, “They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” Can I just say how blessed I feel to see that one assignment has covered all three?
Go love someone by giving them the time to hear a story, or share one of your own … no matter what their age.