One of my favorite things to wake up to each day is my Timehop feed. For anyone uninitiated, Timehop is a handy app that will show your social media feed for the day from years past, and it’s downright delightful to rediscover the little memories you can otherwise lose. This morning I was reminded of where I was this time last year, wrapping up an incredible three month season living among some of my dearest friends in New York, and tucked into a perfect last dinner night with my girls. All-You-Can-Eat sushi night at our favorite spot, joyfully indulging – no, let’s be honest – overindulging. Bottles of wine were flowing, laughter was loud, and happiness was all ours.
While I was having an unforgettable evening, I couldn’t help but be distracted by what I saw at the sushi counter just a bit to my right. There, all alone in a bustling restaurant, was a terribly frail elderly man, his thin back curved over the counter, wrestling with his chopsticks and slowly bringing each bite to his mouth. Despite the ongoing conversations at my table, my mind just kept returning to him. Why was he here alone? He must be at least eighty. Where was his family? Had he lost them to the years, or never had a family at all? The stark contrast between the overflowing love and warmth and inclusion at our table and the cold isolation at his seat was heartbreaking.
There was a time that a scene like this wouldn’t have touched me as much, had I noticed it at all. You see, I hadn’t always had dinners like this. In the insecurities and fears that had subtly underlined much of my late twenties and early thirties, I’d spent far too many years building walls between myself and any kind of real community. I, like him, spent many nights dining out alone, not making eye contact with others or calling a friend to join me. I’d bury myself in a book or my laptop, glad to be around others but not wanting to risk connecting. But now – oh, now – how the tides had turned. Through a vicious series of events, life had grabbed me by the ankles and shaken me upside down, most of my securities falling away like loose change out of pockets. I’d thought I’d come to New York to look for a new job, but instead I found myself. More importantly, I found myself loved. I found myself eagerly welcomed in by friends when I had no job, no money, and no status to offer. Through their investment in me, I learned to let myself be loved for who I was, not what I did. And suddenly, after just a few spectacular months, I was packing up the car to return to Tennessee, attending dinners every night in my last week with dozens of friends who were heartbroken to let me go.
As I looked over at that lone filled seat at the counter, I realized no one in the restaurant was more responsible to reach out and connect as I, having been poured into so lovingly myself. I pointed him out to my girlfriends and, being the kindred spirits they are, their hearts opened up too. I flagged down our waitress and asked her to bring us his bill, and when it had been paid, we wrote him a little note to say it was our pleasure to treat him to dinner tonight. We went back about our chatting, but a few moments later a small figure shuffled up next to me. When I looked up into his face, I recognized in it the same swell of joy I’d felt in the moments my friends made sure I knew I mattered.
“Hello ladies,” he said in a quiet voice. “My name is Marvin and I just can’t believe you sweet girls would even notice and old man like me, much less buy me dinner.”
We fussed and flirted and generally loved on him for a few moments before he tipped his hat – no, really, he was wearing one, and he actually tipped it – and wished us a nice evening before heading out the door, boasting one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.
Everyone needs community, but most of us are terrified to ask for it. It’s such a risk to show your heart and ask others to be kind to it. But here’s the best part – connection is infectious and addictive. The more you get, the more you want to give. So reach out, and maybe even more importantly, let yourself be reached. Don’t hide, don’t look the other way. I was blessed with a community that showed up and unearthed my cold, dead heart and brought me back to life with their stubborn love and limitless generosity, and thanks to that, a lovely man named Marvin and I now share a beautiful memory. He was not forgotten and neither was I.