I have never been as lonely in my life as I was in the first year after we moved to Washington. And I’m no stranger to loneliness, having moved across state or country lines more than 10 times in my life. I knew it was the right decision for our family, but that didn’t make it any easier to trade a place where we were known and loved for one where we knew no one.
I tried everything I could to build friendships; I joined a MOPs group at church, invited other moms over for play dates with their kids, even exchanged phone numbers with complete strangers at the zoo, mall, park, etc., in the hope of creating opportunities to develop relationships. But it was all for naught. Everyone seemed settled in their lives, in which I posed an unnecessary addition.
I prayed constantly for friends, but when none magically materialized I moved on to simpler prayers – for company, invitations to play dates, even just conversations. I would go to the grocery store and watch everyone go about their business and think, “I wish someone would just say hi to me.” Everyone seemed too busy with their lives to notice anyone else, let alone pause for a conversation. I joined a gym, hoping I’d be able to form some friendships in the classes there, but everyone at the gym had the same unapproachable expressions I’d found elsewhere.
Once, I was in an excercise class, watching all the women around me avoid each other, staying silently in their personal bubbles. From the depths of my soul I cried out silently to God, “Please, would you just send someone to come talk to me?” And immediately I heard the reply, “Dayna, look up. Look around you. Don’t you think some of these women might be thinking the same thing? If you want a friend, be a friend. If you want someone to talk to you, go talk to them.” So I took a deep breath and dove in head first. It became a defining moment for me.
That was over two years ago, and that first conversation at the gym paved the way for a new outlook on life. I stopped looking at the world around me to hand me what I wanted, and I started asking instead what I had to offer the world around me. In that ballet class, where I first began starting conversations, I now have a community of women on whom I can rely. I know many of their deeply personal stories, and they know mine. When my daughter died, my instructor and one of my classmates showed up on my doorstep with flowers and a card from my class. It meant so much to me, so far beyond the flowers or card. It represented the community of friends I had yearned for, just a year prior, and it never would have happened had I not stepped out of my comfort zone.
So often, we don’t realize how alone we are until a tragedy shakes our once-stable ground, revealing the gaping fault lines that lay underneath it all along. A relationship breakdown, a death, the loss of a job – these are the stress points at which we desperately need a community of support around us. Yet, we won’t have that community when we need it unless we’ve been that for others when they needed it.
Today, more than three years later, I’m in a much different place. I count myself blessed to be surrounded by true friends, ones I know I can rely on, and who know they can expect the same from me. But I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be the lonely outsider. They are everywhere we go, if we’ll only pause our busy lives to notice them. They are the old man at the bus stop who tried to smile at you as you walked by, the clerk at the grocery store with the vacant eyes, the woman sitting by herself at the park. You could change their day by simply noticing them. We can say we love one another, but love is a verb. It is shown through our actions. Love does.