Her awkward, tiny steps down the street set her apart, but nobody bothers to notice. She passes in and out of our peripherals, like a blindspot we've grown accustomed to ignoring... to forgetting. Time has bent her now crooked back, weighed down under a lifetime of trial and tribulation. Drab, floor length skirts barely hide the worn sneakers that have taken her back and forth across the city a million times, and a million times again. She gathers her shoulders inside the frayed, royal blue cardigan, somehow drawing her arms further into its lengthy-sleeves - thin protection from a cold world. Thick, horn-rimmed bifocals sit perched on the bridge of her nose, but she keeps her eyes on the grey, unbiased ground in front of her.
When she does speak, her voice is thin and frail, yet with a lighter tone. Something that might have once held a music of its own - a symphony lost, a composer forgotten. She stumbles over her words, unsure of how much to say at any one time, as each trips out. It's not the language itself that's in short supply, but the confidence and poise. She doesn't care for it anymore though. It holds no meaning, no necessity for her. It has become but a means to an end - and not the end itself.
From a far land, she made the journey to this land of promise and dreams. She invested her hope in a new, better life for her and her family. One without political turmoil. Without social limit. Where the only limits to what you could achieve was what you could believe - and where, for once, what you believed could set you free.
Over 50 years later, she is alone. Her husband died long ago. Granted a small room in the basement of his house, she lives under her now wealthy, successful son - happy for his prosperity. She loves her quickly-growing grandson with all her heart, even as he makes his way to leave home. But she is alone. To everyone around, she has served her purpose: an archaic staircase for a machine that resorts to elevators. She is obsolete.
I see her now, as I leave the house to fetch the mail. She tends to the tiny garden with a giant house all to herself. A 9-5 housesitter. No friends - her family was the be-all, end-all of her life. She treks each day to her daughter's home, to take care of her younger grandchildren while she's at work. Nobody picks her up or offers her a ride - she does it willingly. Taking the same bus every morning. She lives for others, to feel needed, to escape her isolation.
Have you ever seen loneliness?
Humanity. Unlike any other form of life on the face of the earth in one, single, unique respect: our ability to communicate.
We are social beings; creatures of communication. We thrive on interaction - from a smile and a laugh, to handshakes and sex. We need others. Others to care for and be cared by. To love and be loved. To understand and be understood. To lean on and be leaned on. To live. A life without that kind of connection, that kind of tie, that kind of bond... is to be without that which gives us our fruitful existence. It fulfills us in ways we can't imagine being without.
Try to imagine a world without any interaction. Where day and night pass like cars on a freeway - countless and meaningless. Where every hue of every colour in every tiny, natural detail was lost to the depths of your mind - passing each rational barrier and every logical strain. Why? Because there would be nobody to share it with. No basis upon which to think, to learn... to grow. And if we can't grow, we can't live.
No man is an island, true enough. There's a reason 'Solitary Confinement' is the next-to-last resort in federal penitentiaries. It can drive you insane: alone with your thoughts, bereft of all human contact. We cannot do without it. Like a drug, this connection has its highs and lows, bringing pleasure - but always with the risk of pain. And not all pains are burns and bruises.
As this connection grows stronger, we feel needed. And to be needed, in even the smallest way, is something each of us craves. We feel purpose. We feel motive. We feel important. It's true that our relationships can weaken us and expose our vulnerability, but they can do far more than that. Our resolve to remain in another's life, to help them, mend them and be with them can make us powerful in a world where Life's own crux eludes us.
"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others." - Dalai Lama
I grip the shifter and throw the car into 'reverse'. Looking over my shoulder, I slowly roll back down the road towards the old woman. She doesn't look up, keeping her steady pace on the pavement. She doesn't see the beautiful summer blossoms nor the colourful billboards up ahead. Doesn't hear the whistling wind nor my car's rumbling engine. Smell the freshly fallen rain nor the propane from my neighbor's BBQ.
I roll down the passenger window and lean towards the opening:
"Do you need a ride?"