Helping Each Other Feel Less Alone

NYC Relief Brett Hartford

“Stop complaining. It can always be worse.”

"You’re not as bad off as the next guy.”

“Suck it up, you’re being too sensitive.”

These phrases take up space in our ear and lead us down a rugged, desolate road. Searching for respite from our solitude, we grasp onto them as truths, when they are simply a temporary band-aid.

As our thoughts pass on, we begin searching again for a place of belonging. We long for a place of rest, a seat at the table, or even just a brief pause.

Maybe, just maybe, today will be the day that I will find the ear to listen, the friend that will notice my unspoken anguish, or even just a stranger’s smile—at this point, something would be better than nothing.

But it’s just been so long, this feeling of I don’t belong. It’s like I’m watching life through a snow globe: the lights are on, music is playing, and the city is full of life—except, it’s just not my life. This is New York City. I feel like I’m shivering cold while surrounded by thousands of blankets. Every resource imaginable is a swipe away; people, places, things, I am fully surrounded, but I have no idea how to access them.

When those words start again—“Stop whining” or “Do you see how much you do have?”—they occupy the mind, immovable and unwavering.

This cry of heartbreak and solitude is my story, but it’s also your story. No one is immune to the echoes of solitude. Money doesn’t give you immunity; just a buffer for a period of time before pain comes knocking again. I’ve had many conversations on the streets with men and women we serve who have nothing. At the same time, I’ve also had identical conversations with those who are serving.

So who has the key to feeling less alone?

We are the key. You are the key. I am the key.

We are all in this together.

When we speak out of our own personal pain and fears, when we bring to light our loneliness and lost-ness, we help rip away the stigma of homelessness and reduce the gap between each other.

In John 8, when Jesus catches the woman in the act of adultery, it’s easy to interpret those verses as being about sin, but those verses are also about loneliness and vulnerability. It’s easy to cast aside your own solitude when you are playing the comparison game, but in the end, the people you're comparing yourself to daily are still stuck at the bottom.

Instead, speak about your own lost-ness and become a companion to everyone else who also feel lost and alone. The scenario completely changes for all of us when we are no longer alone. We may still feel lost, but we may no longer be totally lost. In addition to bringing light to your own life, proactively look for those warning signs that you know so well in others. Be the answer to the prayer of the friends and strangers around you. Reach out to a friend or stranger and let them know, we are all in this together.

“Do you have dinner plans? Come join me!”

“Can I sit next to you?”

“You looked cold, so I brought you a coffee.”

You and I hold each other’s keys. Let’s always be on the lookout to keep the keys out and be ready to use them.


Brett Hartford is the Outreach Director at New York City Relief.

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