Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 11, 2007


Lonely breakfast reminds me how tough loneliness can be


          One morning last week I had a lonely breakfast at Hardee’s. A good friend had promised to meet me there but he never showed up. So I had an hour alone with a sausage biscuit and coffee.

          At first I figured my friend was just a little late. Perhaps he had a phone call just as he was walking out the door. I was pretty sure he had not forgotten or overslept. He is an early riser like me. Old folks like us feel guilty about sleeping late. Any way we have to get up every two hours to go to the bathroom so when it’s daylight we just stay up and make coffee.

          Thirty minutes passed and I began having anxious thoughts. Perhaps he had been in a wreck or maybe his old truck finally died. He has 400 thousand miles on that old pickup and it looks like it was stolen from a junk yard. Maybe, I thought, I should drive toward his home; I might find him stranded on the road.

          My thoughts changed from anxiety to disappointment. The rascal refuses to buy a cell phone. If he had a mobile phone he could call me and tell he was running late. But no, he would rather save the money. Well, if he is stranded on the highway, I hope he has to walk two miles to get to a phone and call for help.

          After 45 minutes I called his house. Maybe he got sick during the night. Maybe after his wife left for work, he had a stroke or something and cannot get to the phone. He’s lying on the floor struggling in vain to reach the phone, unable even to speak the words, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” My disappointment gave way to compassion. I love this old friend and I need to help him.

          Just as quickly as it came, my compassion was gone. As his phone kept ringing, it dawned on me that he did not have an answering service. Here he is an electronic genius and he will not spend a few bucks on a Wal-Mart answering machine.  I remembered he once explained to me why: “I don’t want to be bothered with phone messages; if it is really important, they’ll call back when I’m at home.” I had to admit he was right.

          By now he was an hour late. No need to wait around any longer. He is not coming. As I walked out of Hardee’s, it finally hit me. He has been at McDonald’s wondering why I had not showed up! He always eats at McDonald’s; that’s his favorite place.

          About that time I saw his old blue pickup going back toward town. There was too much traffic for me to try to catch him. So I made a new plan for the morning and went on my way. The mystery had been solved.

          But there was still a problem. When I emailed him to meet me at Hardee’s, he had emailed me back with these words: “8 o’clock at Hardee’s –see you there.” A check of my email late in the day verified our plan.

          When I reported this to him, he was stunned. He could hardly believe what he saw. He had typed the word “Hardee’s” but thought “McDonald’s.” His aged mind played a trick on him. Minds wear out just like bodies – just about the time we need them the most. I know. Mine plays tricks on me too.

          So while I was enduring a lonely, frustrating breakfast at Hardee’s, he was sitting at McDonald’s thinking bad thoughts about me. He thought my calendar was not working!

          My lonely breakfast hour got me to thinking about the universal problem of loneliness. It is a paralyzing problem for many people. Just today I heard that loneliness is one of the greatest problems of people living in nursing homes. Loneliness is also a major problem for new college students who have to adjust to a new way of life away from home.

          We may not have a cure for cancer but the cure for loneliness is no mystery. A caring friend showing up with a smile, and having time to listen to you, will cure loneliness every time. That means every person on earth is the cure for someone’s loneliness.

          Next time we will meet at McDonald’s. And for a little while neither my friend nor I will feel lonely. + + + +