Friday, August 12, 2011

Loneliness


By Belinda

My brother Rob dropped me off at the airport early in the morning on Tuesday and after making my way to my airline counter, I joined the queue of passengers taking the same plane from Birmingham to Toronto.

A small woman with sparse brown hair asked if this was the line for Toronto. I told her that I hoped so!


I turned away from her and looked around, interested  in watching the other people in line. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement. A man who appeared to be in his early 70's but tall, upright and well built, with white hair, closely cropped, and pale blue restless eyes in a face that was unlined with slightly puffy skin. He was very talkative and active and in conversation with an airline staff who was, for some reason, directing him out of the building. He went, and  I watched him as he paced awkwardly behind the floor to ceiling glass panes, ill at ease, not seeming to know what to do with himself. It seemed unnatural for a man of his maturity to be banished outside, something seemed off kilter.  "A nervous flyer," I thought, "maybe had a few drinks."

On the plane I settled into my seat and he was there again, a few seats ahead of me on the right hand side of the aisle. He was fidgety, troublesome to the flight attendant who was assisting him. "I go through withdrawal symptoms," he said as she tried to settle him down.


The passenger who was seated beside him was reseated elsewhere. As he left, the white haired man said, "You wouldn't want to sit by me; I'd do yer  'ead in after two minutes."


Periodically the flight attendants intervened, dissuaded him from buying alcohol. He loudly protested that he couldn't understand why he couldn't pay in cash. He cast about, looking for someone to engage in conversation but most of the passengers in his vicinity studiously kept their eyes averted.

Part way through the flight to my surprise, he found someone to talk to. It was a child, a little boy, seated across from him. I noticed that he had a gift for connecting to a child, and they talked, from then on, for the rest of the flight.

As we landed at Toronto, and taxied down the runway, he and the boy, who was named Andrew (we could all hear the conversation,) tried to spot as many planes from different airlines as possible. It sounded like they were both having an equal amount of fun. He, an adult, had entered the world of the child. Children don't see things as adults see them. Children don't judge.

The 7 hour journey was over though; we were there. The plane came to a halt and the Seatbelts On sign went off. People stood and opened the overhead luggage bins.

I heard the man say, "Well, Andrew, goodbye. See you again sometime." It sounded like he was leaving a friend. 

I wondered where he was going and to whom. Was he a grandfather coming to see his family? How would the visit go? If there were children it would be good, but maybe bitter sweet for the adults.


Sometimes you wonder what brings a person to the point at which your life intersects briefly with theirs. He wore loneliness like a garment.

It is loneliness that makes the loudest noise. This is true of men as of dogs.
Eric Hoffer

6 comments:

Marilyn said...

I don't know who Eric Hoffer is, but I love the quote!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Belinda, I love these kind of stories. Simple human connections and interactions - are the 'stuff' of life. You took an interaction that most would have seen without seeing it and made for us here a wonderful and beautiful story. Thank you.

Belinda said...

Marilyn, the quote really does make you think, doesn't it?

Belinda said...

Dave, thank you for that encouragement. Ever since I saw the man I just had to write about him, but I confess to wondering if anyone else in the world would be interested. I didn't do a good job of finishing the story. He seemed suddenly adrift as Andrew packed up to go, as if he was losing an anchor that had helped him keep his moorings for part of the flight. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading about him--I have learned so much from you--you are the ultimate people watcher.

Theresa said...

So poignant,Belinda. How my heart hurts when I witness people blatantly ignore people like the man in your post. I teach my children to be merciful and kind to people who others find unworthy. I cannot even count the number of people that have engaged me in conversation and that still small voice inside reminds me they may be desperately lonely.

Having worked were I have, I've witnessed people avoid eye contact, turn away and shun people. It is cruel. So very very cruel.

Belinda said...

Theresa, yes, it is sad that we are so guarded and insular. The world is full of lonely people.