Loneliness chasers

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Well, what do you know, Ash Wednesday falls on February 14 this year, same as, of course, Valentine’s Day. And don’t these holy days/holidays relate to the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness in the U.K.? Loneliness exists everywhere, not just in the U.K. And it’s very bad for our health, something Dr. James J. Lynch’s 1976 book, “The Broken Heart, the Medical Consequences of Loneliness,” warned in vain about — but few listened then. Thankfully, a Lenox Hill Neighborhood House volunteer, Lesley, alerted me to news reports highlighting the appointment of the Loneliness Minister. I might otherwise have missed that development. Imagine...

Ah yes, good friends, like Lesley, and don’t forget family, colleagues and neighbors, who keep you posted, stay in touch, are most deserving Valentine recipients — and loneliness chasers. It can’t be said enough how Valentine’s Day is definitely not for romantic couples only. And music lyrics must stop saying just that. Recall Ira Gershwin, whose lyrics for George’s last composition before his death, “Love is here to stay,” were written as a tribute to his brother: “It’s very clear, our love is here to stay/Not for a year but ever and a day.”

And to stay with the music, if only “Why don’t people stay in one place anymore” had become a rallying cry against compulsive, impulsive and unnecessary uprooting. An immigration and migration downside is the loneliness felt by those left behind. It’s usually the old folks who suffer from the subsequent lack of grandparent closeness. Ah, but the need is mutual, and what about all those who don’t have children? Well, here’s to “the family rich” including “the family poor.”

Now medics in the U.K. and elsewhere say loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Ironically, smoking temporarily relieves loneliness. Ah, so does alcohol, and we need to know how AA meetings provide the kind of supportive community that’s needed everywhere else. And speaking of ministers, the faith group kind should consider how their pews might be a lot fuller if comparable support were found in their own congregations. Members bearing one another’s burdens and assisting the disabled to services and events. Ah, that goes for civic and political groups too. So no one is left out. So no one is left out.

And, oh, how loneliness grows in the loss of community gathering places — the loss of our stores and eateries where one can also go alone, and waiters and clerks know you by name.

It’s ironic, as Arlene Kayatt’s column in these pagers recently observed, that those places where healing can take place — “the hospitals’ lust for Manhattan real estate” eat up those very establishments — those neighborhood gathering places such as coffee shops and diners — that help meet those every-day needs.

And there are the lost movie houses — the latest being the Sunshine Cinema. And a valentine surely for Frank Rowley who long managed the doomed Park Plaza Cinema — and for his unique gift for choosing the worthiest films going back at the still very much missed Regency revival film house.

But returning to our Loneliness Minister, whose appointment compelled me to write a letter calling for a revival of Hubert H. Humphrey’s strong belief that “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.” Another letter stressed how apartment house staff provide not only security, but often the only caring human exchange elder tenants especially receive. And yet a third letter cited the decline in religious faith and religious observance as a significant cause of loneliness. Well, let the concerned keep pushing our media to continue coverage of this cultural tsunami.

Combating the loneliness plague needs many a column — and surely as it relates to the Easter and Passover seasons. And don’t forget Valentine’s Day is definitely not for couple/romantic love only!


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