Monthly Musing – October 2019 – Only the lonely
A recent train journey to London coincided with World Mental Health Day, which I knew nothing about until the train manager announced that every drink bought at the buffet car would be matched by a second free drink to give to someone sitting nearby so that you could start a conversation.
“How would you know that someone would want to speak to you?” asked a friend, when I told them about it later.
“How would you know they didn’t,” I countered, “unless you made the effort to speak to them in the first place?”
I don’t usually need much excuse to talk to someone and even without the assistance of a free drink, I was soon
interrogating chatting to the young lady next to me who reminded me very much of big daughter; a university student of a similar age studying the same subject, and on her way home to spend the weekend with her family. Students really have got it together these days, I thought as, confident and articulate, she told me about her course and her plans for the weekend. Soon after our conversation, we were both plugged into our headphones (I love to spend train journeys catching up with episodes of Radio 4’s In Our Time) but would catch each other’s eye and smile from time to time.
Not long later, she looked up and said, “I don’t suppose you’d have a phone charger, would you? My battery’s nearly gone and I don’t know if I’ve got enough charge to get me home.” Those of us who’ve lived without a phone know that it would be OK, but for those who haven’t, having a phone with a dead battery in a familiar place is as bad as being dropped in the desert without a map. I handed over my power brick and the lady next to me had the right charging cable. We all laughed and spoke for a few minutes, and another connection was made. I watched the student relax, knowing that she only had to ask and we would help her.
I applaud Virgin Trains for their thoughtful gesture over the drinks that day. Making connections isn’t always easy. Loneliness is said to be a bigger risk to our health than obesity, and it’s one with no visible symptoms. Whilst that might seem to be something that might only affect older people (my Dad always said that the hardest times for him living alone were after 4pm on a winter’s evening when the curtains were closed and it was just him and the TV), there is growing evidence that it’s affecting more than just the older generation – and don’t forget that one day WE will be the older generation. It seems that although we’re more connected than ever through our phones and laptops, physical interaction is on the wane and being a sociable species, that’s affecting our health and our mental well-being – although in the right circumstances, the two can work together very successfully. That’s why I am always so delighted to see friendships forming through my Facebook groups; not only is there a reason for someone to go online and feel connected, but there’s often the opportunity to meet up offline too. A cup of coffee somewhere, a chance to sit and chat, to feel a part of something. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?
“Thank you for helping me,” said the student, as we got off the train. “I was really scared about having no phone battery, I didn’t know what I was going to do.” And there you have it. Confident and articulate, yes, but we all only show what we want people to see, and usually it’s not the part of us inside that’s scared or lonely. My family might roll their eyes but it won’t stop me speaking to people I don’t know. It’s a habit that I hope will be contagious as who knows – I might need someone to speak to me, one day.