We are not on this planet alone, and while this sounds like an obvious statement there is evidence most of us live life thinking otherwise.
Lisa was a person. She matters and most of her life she thought she was alone on this planet.
In her journal, she wrote about experiences impacting the way she viewed the world around her; other people on life’s journey, and how they looked beyond her as she walked through her day.
She never learned how to drive, so dependent on public transportation; she rode the bus to get to work and stores. She could not afford the luxury of Uber or a cab.
On the bus, she always attempted to smile and make eye contact with other riders. Often she found they quickly looked away, staring out a window or at the floor without ever trying to change the blank expressions painted on their face.
They rarely looked happy.
She was too shy to talk to anyone she didn’t know well, but would say hi if she glimpsed a passing glance. Rarely, they smiled back.
Her sadness ached more each time.
She sat in a cubical at work. Four fabric-covered walls deadening sound so conversations around her were only muffled noise.
People rarely said hi. It didn’t escape her attention that Debbie, in the cubical next to her, often had a visitor pop in to check on how her day was going.
Some days, on the way home from work, one stop away from her home she would run into the grocery store.
The other shoppers walked with purpose, finding items they needed and placing them into their basket. They were focused. She understood that.
She often noticed that they pushed their shopping buggies without regard to anyone else, as if they were the only one in the aisles, leaving them catawampus and blocking the way for anyone to pass.
How can they ignore everyone around them trying to get by? Why don’t they see other people?
She liked that the market employees smiled and said hi even if no one else might. She knew it was their job, but she wasn’t picky. Even paid smiles and required greetings were better than anything she’d see once leaving the store.
The short walk home wasn’t worth getting back on the bus, so she hoisted her bags to her shoulder and walked, just hoping she might run into another person willing to make eye contact and perhaps let their lips unpurse and grin just a bit.
It was rare to see it happen. And her sadness clutched a little more around her heart.
At home, she often turned on the TV just to have another voice in the background of her simple apartment.
She passed quickly by any major news channel.
In her journal, she wrote about watching one of these stations, hoping to grasp what was going on in the world outside her own, but it only spewed hatred and bad news, nothing impacting her world or her day.
She couldn’t understand the purpose of their conversations, doing nothing to help or inform on things that mattered.
She tried two other channels supposed to provide information, and they also were only reiterations of self-indulgent rubbish.
Her own head provided enough of that garbage; she surely needed no help with finding more.
So she swore she wouldn’t go there again. It made the loneliness worse.
Time was the enemy to Lisa. She fought hard to find a smile or a glimmer of hope. She tried to understand how standing in a room full of people, she could feel as if she were alone and invisible, while the world around her was alive and vibrant with activity.
“Just be brave!” her mother would tell her. “Be bold and start the conversions yourself.”
The words echoed through the hollowness in her chest, compressed to immobility by oppressive depression.
She didn’t have the strength.
She tried talking to her doctor, but during her visits, the professional from whom she sought a little help never spent more than 5 minutes in the room.
Lisa took the prescription the doctor handed her on the way out the door and tried to make sense of the few technical words uttered by her caregiver.
The medicine gave her a terrible headache, so she stopped it after just a few days.
Lisa just stopped going to work in June. She couldn’t get out of bed and dreaded the disturbing looks thrown around by people around her.
Smiles were just too hard to find. A faint “hello” was a prize she never won.
The journal entries stopped the second week of July.
A few days later, the landlord found her in her bed when he became concerned her mail was piling up and no could remember the last time they saw her.
He didn’t say how she died.
I came to clean out her apartment after they coroner took her away. I found her journal and out of curiosity started reading.
My heart was heavy as the words cut into me like little knives.
No hellos, no smiles, no contact; and the world of loneliness she lived in was almost too much for me to handle.
I lived next door to Lisa for more than a year. I couldn’t remember the last time I said hi to her.
In hindsight, we really didn’t bump into each other much but I recall most times being too busy thinking about something else, or just staring at the floor while passing because of my unwillingness to talk to someone I didn’t really know.
But I never saw her desperation for a friendly face.
I know her problems were difficult for her, and I understand that I can’t carry the blame for her leaving the world early.
But I can take away a wiliness to provide a smile and a greeting to those around me.
We all have our own struggles and we all have challenges getting up and making it through another day.
Still, it costs me nothing to hand off a smile to a stranger. It requires no real effort to say hi.
And the impact of letting each traveler pass by without acknowledging their existence can leave an impression beyond understanding.
So I will smile more, even when I don’t want to. I will make eye contact and leave each person who passes my little space with a feeling I see them, and I know they are important, regardless of their outward appearance.
Life is tough. But I find when I give a little happiness away to passing strangers; it lightens the load on my soul just a little and allows me to go just a bit farther as I battle with my own demons along the way.
I challenge you to think about Lisa every time you come in contact with a fellow being and give away a few free smiles.
It is a small offering that seems to pay dividends worth keeping.