Friday, November 21, 2008

Only the Lonely

It wasn’t until a month into my husband’s trip to the States that loneliness hit me. More than just hit- it slammed into me, incapacitating me for a day. I wasn’t surprised, but I was annoyed, and while I was confident it would pass, I tried everything I could to chase it away quickly.

That’s when I realized that I had been working on keeping the loneliness blues at bay for weeks. I’d kept myself busy making all sorts of to-do lists, traveling into the city for no reason, painting and writing, and catching up on all the things I’d been meaning to take care of around the house, always with a stream of music to keep me company.

Sometimes the inevitable catches up to you, no matter how hard you try to keep it away.

I’m only a few days away from my trip to the States, where I’ll join my husband for a couple of weeks and we’ll enjoy time with our grandchildren. As I start gathering all the presents I need to pack, the loneliness that overwhelmed me only a few days ago is tucked far away, but every now and then its memory surfaces for a moment or two of reflection.

Whenever I travel into Jerusalem, I always seem to pick out lone faces in the crowd. Amidst groups of happy teenagers, couples engaged in conversation, people briskly walking down the street while chattering on cell phones, I focus on the single stroller. They might have the same content look I imagine I have on my face, but at times my eyes find someone who looks lost in sad thoughts, and I’m often tempted to stop and give them a few words of cheer. Usually, though, I don’t want to intrude, so I just flash them a sweet smile, and continue on my way.

It’s the elderly I wonder about. Lonely in a crowd, do they return home to lone lives? Can you get used to living alone, day after day? I enjoy being alone, but I hate those times when feelings of loneliness intrude on my stability, a persistent invader who can’t be fought off.

Shortly after my Mother passed away, I was contacted by the day care center she had attended, asking if I’d give thought to some volunteering. At the time it was the last thing I could imagine doing- while I understood that helping the elderly was surely one of the great ‘mitzvot’, I felt that after the years of caring for my Mom, I needed some distance from any sort of care giving. But a few weeks ago, my husband and I paid a condolence call in a nursing home, and I felt myself warmly reaching out to the residents.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my Mom passed away, and I’m pretty sure I’m ready to start returning the good will that had been so lovingly bestowed by numerous volunteers. I think working with Alzheimer’s patients would still be much too difficult for me, but I’d like to work with senior citizens, in a nursing home, day care program, or on an individual basis. I remember how special it was for us when we could bring a smile to my Mom’s face. I’d like to be able to put smiles on other faces, too.

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