I was enjoying the sun, reading, on the grass; he was fidgeting, shoes off, trying to get comfy on a bench. I watched him, on and off, for maybe 30 minutes. He was unremarkable in appearance – perhaps 30-something, slim, dark hair, black jeans, white teeshirt. There was something about his being alone and his apparent inability to get to sleep on the bench that eventually drew me to pack away my book and go and join him, also barefoot, on the bench.
My sitting disturbed him. He had his head buried in his arm which he lifted when he felt me sit down, and he shuffled over. Can’t remember what I said, “Nice day.” I think, and maybe, “You OK?”
Transpires he’d woken up too early as he forgot to shut his curtains before bed and had come to the park to sleep.
We exchanged easy small talk and within minutes had fast-tracked to discussing culture, diversity, global city-life, the emptiness of the Canary Wharf lifestyle, materialism… It started to rain so we took cover under the branches of a tree and continued to talk… About where we are in our lives, what we hope to achieve, religion, society, the craving to “fit-in”, the need to fill the void inside, Eastern versus Western cultures and values and happiness.
We walked the park between rain storms, ducking under buildings and trees as the need arose. We talked for maybe three hours, then we exchanged contacts, and went our separate ways.
In the three hours, this young man from Eastern Europe, who has traveled the world, spent a short time studying society in Nepal, and spent 12 years studying the core values of the Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic faiths (among others), taught me that it’s OK to be lonely.
He explained that it’s Western society that trains us to believe we should be happy all the time and that if we’re not we’re failing. He told me that “personal identity” doesn’t exist; that it’s a false creation of Western society, and how many of us try to fill the void we feel inside with three things: career, relationship, material possessions. I pointed out that, for me, it’s “keeping busy”. I keep myself busy all the time because I’m terrified of feeling lonely.
He believes the void inside cannot be filled but that each of us simply has to learn to become comfortable with it.