I think one of the saddest and possibly the most philosophical of the Beatles’ songs is Eleanor Rigby.
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
As a child, we had a regular Saturday morning visitor. Every Saturday, rain or shine, he would turn up and sit in our kitchen, drinking tea and talking to my uncle, to my mother, to my brother and sister and me. He never had much to say but he said it at length, several times over.
We grew tired of his constant Saturday morning presence.
“He’s lonely,” said our uncle. “He has no other friends.”
“His wife is very house-proud,” said our mother. “She likes to do her cleaning on a Saturday so he has to get out. He only has here to come to.”
He was a little tiresome but no great inconvenience. After all, he just drank coffee and sat. And talked.
He had a daughter and my uncle felt sorry for her. They lived on an isolated farm in the middle of the fen, with no neighbours for miles around, and she was lonely. I was taken, on a regular basis, to “play” with her.
There was no lack of money, so she had every toy imaginable, but they rarely came off the shelves in her immaculately tidy bedroom. Mostly, she read magazines aimed at younger children; there were no books in the house. Once, I persuaded her to come outside to make a den in the old woodpile, and we got into trouble for getting green moss-stains on our clothes. It was a revelation to me that some children could be in trouble for getting dirty while playing.
I suppose we were “kind” to that other family, but I was always uncomfortable that I could not enjoy their company and I think my mother and uncle were too. I still feel guilty that I could not give their daughter the deep friendship she needed.
We all know people who are lonely. They need friends. We reach out to them and then regret it because their need is so great it swallows whole the resources we have, and we are forced to disengage. We walk away, then live with their accusation, “You don’t really care about me!” The guilt is a bitter lump in the throat; our inadequacy haunts us.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t reach out to others who are lonely; after all, many of us are or have been lonely ourselves. Depression is isolating; we understand loneliness.
We need to remember, however, to care for ourselves first. Meeting up with that lonely person for the occasional coffee (when next we can meet for coffee) may be all we can manage, and we should not feel guilty for giving only what we can.
There are, after all, other people in the world to befriend the lonely; it is not just all on us.
A Moodscope member.
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