Like an old friend, the sun returned today after an absence of many days. City sidewalks came alive with joggers. Dogs on leashes pulled their humans along, wet noses leading the way through slush and tiny rivers of snow melt. Even the most cynical soul would have been hard pressed to remain cynical today, so powerful is the pull on the winter spirit when sunshine brightens the skies.
Today, with the welcome sun shining warm on my face, I found myself thinking about friends, and what friendship means. I am lucky. Even if I don’t see them often, I know that my really good friends will always be there for me. They’ll come to my aid if needed, and if distance or responsibility prevents them from crossing my doorway, they'll send their strength through phone calls or texts and do what they can to support me emotionally. What a gift to have such friends. What a gift.
While considering my great good fortune to have friends nearby, I also found myself thinking about those who do not. I recently met a man who works for a large international corporation. His days exists for the sole purpose of getting the job done, and his fellow engineers, his team, are just as focused on meeting those goals. But at the end of the day, each man goes his own way: some go home to families, some, like him, go home to an empty apartment. The forces that forge them into a team during the workday dissolve when that workday ends; friendship is not guaranteed. The fact that he comes from another country makes the isolation he endures even sharper.
I remember that isolation. Even with my husband’s family nearby, as a foreigner living in Norway, I was desperately lonely. The few other foreigners I knew there experienced the same acute loneliness. It’s a loneliness so pervasive and soul-killing that, in our darkest moments, we all, at one time, had questioned the point of waking up to another day. Fortunately, we all survived that harrowing time, but I have never been able to forget how it felt: day upon endless day of hollow, fragile emptiness, unlike anything I have ever known.
The author, Marilyn French, says that loneliness is not a longing for company, it’s a longing for kind. I would take it one step further and say that loneliness is a longing for kindness. Like the sunshine that appears one day after so much absence, now that it’s back, we realize how hungry we were for its warmth. Friendship can be that way. You and I have the power to spread that warmth, and when we know that we are in the presence of someone from another country, we have the power to become ambassadors of goodwill. It doesn’t take much: a few words in passing, a greeting, a smile. An invitation to share a table at the coffee shop could be the first step in changing someone’s life. Sometimes, the greatest act of courage, and the greatest gift, begins with hello.
Keep your face to the sunshine,