He annoyed me. Often. Wandering around the conference using social skills that needed way more than fine tuning. I could see that others felt the same way. But here we were in a session together. It sounded like fun in the description. It was to be for men and we were to adapt football chants and slogans to the ideas of inclusion and freedom. It was fun!
When we were thinking up ideas, this little man with a disability began to sing. He sang a song about longing. About wanting to have a friend. Someone to go out with. Someone to spend time with. Someone to take the dreadful loneliness away. He sang about being sad, being alone, being lonely. He sang about wanting a life that was both free and full. When he finished we were all stunned. He loved the applause. He felt part of the group, but he knew he was still alone.
Afterwards I was angry at myself for being annoyed with him. Desperately lonely people do desperately lonely things.
We need to be clear eyed about both the goal and the reality. If people want lives full of friendships they need to learn some hard lessons about respect and reciprocity and roles. I should have been responsible when he annoyed me by saying, 'I know that you are trying to have a conversation but you are maknig me uncomfortable - why not try a new way to start.' I should have gently given him skills. But I didn't. I didn't think it was my place. But if not me, who?
Loneliness defined my youth. It bore down on me feeling like heaven was grinding me down like a cigarette into the pavement. No one should feel that way.
I want to have the opportunity over again, to have tried not to 'be his friend' because that would have been false and patronizing, but to have given him an experience to learn, to have reacted to him in a way that was both real an educational.
Why does kindness, in the moment, look like pity from a distance.