Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lonely in a Crowd

On Saturday night, the Whitworth men's basketball team hosted an NCAA tournament game in the Fieldhouse for the first time in Whitworth's history. I decided to go to the game, even though I didn't have anyone to go with. As Whitworth is my alma mater, I figured I would be able to find someone I knew.

Before the game, I had a craving for Irish soda bread. By the time the bread came out of the oven and I had eaten dinner, it was 6:40 when I arrived at Whitworth. I walked into the Fieldhouse and tossed my $10 on the table, marveling at the noise of the crowd. The Fieldhouse was packed. I have never seen it so full, except perhaps for the Baccaleaurate service on my graduation weekend (and maybe not even then!).

Staring up at the crowds, I suddenly felt dwarfed and lost. I wandered around the perimeter of the room at the base of the bleachers searching for someone I knew and any seat in which to sit. Back where I started, I figured I was out of luck. I saw some professors I knew, but they didn't take initiative to motion me to where they were sitting. I finally found a spot to stand at the corner of the court against the wall. As I scanned the crowd, I suddenly felt an incredible sense of loneliness. I stood there watching the players warm up and was able to identify several familiar faces in the crowd, but no one made an effort to include me, to scrunch down on the bleachers to offer me six inches of space.

As the game started, I figured someone would see me and offer me a seat during the second half, so I watched the game closely, marveled at the incredible volume of the student cheering section, and enjoyed my close-up view of the action, careful not to let my distress show.

At half time, Whitworth alumni were invited to a reception in the lobby of the fitness center next door. I hoped this would be a good time to find people I knew. I walked next door, but soon realized that I knew no one in the room. I grabbed a cup of tea and went back into the Fieldhouse, where I expected I had a better chance of seeing people. It was no different. No one sought me out. No one walked down to say hi. No one invited me to sit or stand with them. For some reason, it became important that someone else take the initiative. It was hard to believe that in a crowd of 1800 people, I could feel so very alone.

Fortunately, the second half of the game was exciting, and I didn't think so much about myself. When the game ended (with Whitworth losing), I left quickly. I had no reason to stick around.

I got home that night and wondered if it had been worth $10 for two hours of feeling like an outcast. I have never minded being alone, as I have a personality that tends toward the introverted. However, I minded that no one took the opportunity to welcome me or to make me feel included. More than an indictment of others, the evening exposed my own selfishness. I know I have often been too busy or self-centered or scared to reach out to others who are lonely. The experience turned me inside out and made me vulnerable, but it also makes me want to be more like Jesus. Jesus who is the most profound example of one who includes the outcast, comforts the lonely, and takes the time to notice the individual.

The next morning in church, a woman said, "Oh Elizabeth! We saw you at the game! We wanted to invite you to sit with us but there was no room." On Monday, at lunch, a friend from Partners said, "Elizabeth! I saw you at the game. We were going to invite you to sit with us, but then I didn't see you again."

My encounters with these two women puzzled me. It made me wonder if, for some sovereign and inexplicable reason, God wanted me to experience loneliness. Their statements made me feel ashamed. I couldn't admit out loud that I had been achingly lonely. But perhaps if I had been bold enough to admit my loneliness, they would have understood. Surely I'm not the only one who's ever been lonely in a crowd.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth,

    Yes, I know this feeling well. It happened to me often while I was traveling and it can hit at unexpected times, even when I am in familiar situations that normally don't feel lonely. I admire that you turned this experience into a reflection on your responsibility to others. I think C.S. Lewis writes about how it can be difficult to make that effort to reach out to others when you would rather be alone. As an introvert, I definitely struggle with what is a healthy balance between taking care of myself and putting my needs/desires aside in service to others. Of course, I think some people have a gift for including people. It's interesting to think about how much we should "play to our strengths" spiritual gifts and how much we ought to stretch ourselves...