by Father Mark Goldasich
One is the loneliest number.
So sang Three Dog Night back in 1969 when it made this Harry Nilsson song a hit. Honestly, though, there’s another number that’s giving “one” a run for its money: That’s 2020.
According to mental health experts, a continuing effect of this pandemic is an outbreak of loneliness. Many common things that we took for granted — congregating in large numbers for Mass, attending weddings and funerals, meals out with family and friends, going to concerts or the theater, shopping, parish festivals and a host of other activities — have either been severely curtailed or canceled.
It’s pushed many people to feel like the following little boy:
One night, the parents of a 3-year-old were hosting a party at their home. The timing of the gathering coincided with the child’s bedtime. After putting the boy to bed, the mom returned to the guests.
A little while later, she noticed her son, out of bed and peeking through the upstairs banister with tears in his eyes.
The mother carried him back to his room. As she tucked him in, the boy said, “Mommy, I’m scared!” She brushed back his hair and said, “I’ll leave the light on, so you won’t be in the dark.” With that, she left.
A few minutes later, the youngster was again peeking through the banister. “I’m still scared, Mommy!” said the boy as his mom picked him up.
She sat on the bed and said, “You don’t need to be afraid. Remember, sweetheart, what I told you about God? He’s always right here with you.”
“I know that, Mommy!” the boy replied, “but right now, I want someone with skin on!”
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re a social people. We literally need one another to survive — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Our practice of social distancing has made us acutely aware of how much we miss “someone with skin on.”
My heart goes out particularly to those who live alone. Or to those who may be part of a family, but still feel alone. Or to people who long to spend time with others but, for the sake of safety, forego that very human desire.
In short, there are a lot of hurting people out there.
Organizations such as our own Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas do tremendous work in connecting people in creative ways in these uncertain times. But there’s an incredibly simple thing that we all can do — the lonely and the not-so-lonely, the young and not-so-young — and it’s shown in this story:
Several years ago, a famous singer was contracted to sing at a Parisian opera house. Ticket sales were booming. In fact, the night of the concert found the venue jam-packed.
There was a palpable feeling of anticipation and excitement as the house manager strode onto the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “thank you for your enthusiastic support. I’m terribly sorry to report that, due to an illness, the man you’ve all come to see is unable to perform tonight. However, we’ve found a suitable replacement.”
The crowd groaned in disappointment and didn’t even hear the stand-in’s name. The atmosphere shifted from excitement to frustration.
The stand-in gave the performance of his life, putting in everything that he had. When he’d finished, there was absolute silence. No one stirred; no one applauded. Suddenly, from the balcony, a little girl stood up and shouted, “Daddy, I think you are wonderful!” That was all it took for the crowd to burst into thunderous applause. (Story found in Meir Liraz’s “Top 100 Motivational Stories.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear: “I think you are wonderful”? Those five simple words can have a dramatic effect on lifting the spirits of the lonely or the underappreciated.
Between now and Labor Day, challenge yourself to share those five words generously by snail mail, email, phone, FaceTime, Zoom, poster or even a yard sign. It’s a simple way to “flesh out” the love and concern in our hearts.
After all, we are the followers of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
For who better than the Father to realize how desperately we would all need “someone with skin on.”