Encounter on the Subway

by Catherine Doherty

I recall one time I was in a subway in Montreal. I was reading a book when an elderly lady, who sat across from me, looked at me and said: “You have a kind face. Would you mind talking to me a little?

“I have had the flu for the last three weeks and a nurse only visited me for half an hour. The landlady would bring me a tray, but neither of them spoke very much. I am hungry for human speech; I am hungry to share with someone. This is the way I feel.”

We made two trips on the subway from one end to the other. Then I invited her to a coffee shop and we became good friends.

I did not live in Montreal, but we corresponded until she died. I hope—in fact, I know—that her loneliness disappeared because there was someone on the other end. There was an ear that listened lovingly. That is all we have to do.

Loneliness has many levels, and we can slip deep down into it, become depressed and emotionally ill, or we can ascend and overcome the superficiality of communication. We can stop and really look our neighbor (whoever it might be) straight in the eye, and say, “Friend, how are you? Tell me about yourself.”

This is partly why Madonna House began what we call “listening houses.” You would be surprised to learn how many people come to them just to talk.

From Grace in Every Season, (2001), August 3, p. 209, available from MH Publications in a 2012 edition