Benjy thought everything he did should be important, that every moment had significance. About the clearest thought he had recently was that he was lost, adrift. He had no dreams, no desires no reason to believe tomorrow would be different.
For the present he was sitting on a park bench in a very nice neighborhood, waiting for someone to tell him to leave. He might welcome that direction because at the very least it would be something to do. Several hours passed with people going by him without making eye contact. Maybe, he wasn’t on a park bench. He closed his eyes momentarily, reopened them and gently rubbed the bench seat. It was wooden, somewhat rough.
“Excuse me.” A young woman wearing a white bonnet stood in front of him. “Do you know how far it is to the library?”
Her question was one he could answer in detail. He knew the library well—it was his church, a place he could be in without fear that someone, like this woman, would talk to him. Her eyes were kind and she waited for a response with a kind smile.
“I am going there, it’s not that far.” He stood up, raised his arm, palm up in a gesture to follow. She did.
The woman walked side by side with Benjy. They left the park without speaking. Benjy hadn’t talked to anyone in several months. The last person was a bus driver who nodded at him when he boarded and Benjy surprised himself by saying, “How’s it going?” He remembered the driver muttering, “It’s Thursday,” before closing the door.
“What day is it?” asked Benjy, turning to the woman.
“Why it’s Thursday,” she replied.
He decided not to tell her the last time he spoke to someone it was a Thursday, instead, he said, ”Thanks.”
“Do you go to the library often?” she asked. They were nearing the end of the first block with the library about to come into view.
“I do. I like to read and to think there.”
“So do I.”
Suddenly, Benjy was overcome with the joy of sharing a few words with a stranger. Her third question was almost too good to be true: “What do you like to read?”
He briefly told her about a handful of books he had read during the present month and he might have added more detail, but they were now in front of the library.
“This is it,” he said, acknowledging they might go inside and never speak to each other again. But the last ten minutes had been important—a stranger had thrown him a lifeline. He looked at her with a smile, believing she did not see a man drowning in loneliness.
“I’m Emma.” She briefly squeezed his hand. “Let’s go in.”
(A new Harvard study finds that 36% of Americans are experiencing “serious loneliness.”