London commuter trains are rarely the right place to strike up conversation. We are all busy starting or wrapping up our days and most of us don’t really feel like getting involved with other people. People love to say we are an unfriendly lot here, but most of the time we are, miraculously, mostly just respectful despite being flung into uncomfortably close proximity with thousands of total strangers at either end of the day. That said, I do enjoy the opportunities that sometimes come my way to share a moment of connection, to put down my phone and engage with someone else. Somewhat inevitably, that person is usually under five or over 75.
One day last week I slumped into a seat ready to get on with end-of-day emailing on my commute home. An older man sat down opposite me and breathed a heavy sigh as his knees bent into the seat. We struck up a conversation. I was stunned to hear he was in his 90s – asked him his secret to looking so young. He told me he had always said that marrying his wife was his secret. But she died recently and now he is alone and, he told me, he is lonely. It is a very brave thing to admit to being lonely – now I liked him even more.
We talked about families and love and the joy of finding someone truly wonderful to share your life with. We talked about bringing together different families and making a new one. And about travel, and history, and we even got the words ‘law of physics’ into our conversation which, considering my commute is so short, felt like quite an achievement.
I gave him my card and said I hoped he’d be in touch. He gave me lots of food for thought and another opportunity to think about how rich our lives are when we find a short moment of connection in a long day.
I didn’t get my emails done until later that evening – and that didn’t matter at all. It isn’t easy to admit to being lonely. If you know an older person who might like some company in their life, please tell them about Contact the Elderly.