It is difficult for me to describe the moment: it was like being drenched by a hard rain or feeling the chill of dread when you realize the novel you are reading may not have a happy ending.
I met a friend in a local cafe last week. I invited her to come down and tell me all about her latest goings-on. My habit is to be as attentive as possible while also saving space for a little daydreaming and eavesdropping on snippets of conversation from those around me. Because I was distracted, I was taken by surprise as the sinking weight of her words soaked into me — a mid-sentence remark dotted with droplets of tears.
“I am so lonely,” she said.
She went on. “I remember the first emotion that struck me when I moved to Cuenca, it was the thrill of exuberance as bracing as alpine air. I tried to breathe it all in, altitude and attitude, but I could not. I was overwhelmed by the possibility of new friendships, creative expression, and everyday fun. I believed at that very moment that I was, at last, home. And, after all these many years, I am still thankful to have come to this place.
‘”But, my heart has grown weary. I often wish to call on friends to visit me, to enjoy the warmth of shared coffee and chit-chat on the terrace. But, my friends can no longer hear my pleas. They are gone.
“My first years in Cuenca were crowned with friendships. It seemed that we were all soothing old scars, and shedding the weight of an overfed nation. We were fresh and wished that the whole world bloomed as Cuenca does. Friendships came easy; friends as varied as flowers. I indulged in childish behavior once again and reveled in every moment. I was drunk on the heady mixture of youthful energy and comradely while cradled in the care of stately architecture and my own learned lessons. We were all as one, energized with optimism, enjoying a new measure of affordable comfort, and most importantly, we had time to share each other’s stories about children grown and in their own homes, exotic places far away, and what it means to join an extended family.”
She believed it would last forever. But, of course, change always comes, and always comes too quickly. And all too quickly, it came for her.
She told me of a friend who moved to Cuenca after his wife died because he thought spending the rest of his days playing golf would be like reading an endless tragic novel. I guess he likes tragedies because he moved back to Texas. He left one morning and did not come back. Although he promised to write to her often, the ink must have run dry before he could because she did not hear from him ever again.
She chronicled a couple she relied on to join her for concerts who packed off to Olón, another couple returned to Toronto due to medical issues, someone else flew away to India, another drove away to their new home in Peru.
She sighed, “My closest friend and neighbor lived just a few doors down from me. She passed away this past spring. I have her cat and a few of her houseplants. She loved them. And, I loved her”
The “Welcome to Cuenca” parties she once hosted are history; the Bon Voyage fetes are no longer required either because so few are left to attend; the ‘bon’ has gone away, as well…
“I don’t go out visiting much anymore; I no longer go out much at all. Instead, I wrap myself in memories — a blend of alpaca and smoke from old driftwood fires woven into the diminished fabric of my heart. My daily stroll is now through the rangeland of dreams, and although they stoke warm memories, sometimes when it rains, or the clouds dip low, I chill. I long for the warmth of companionship. I so wish not to be forgotten.”
Far too many have replaced walking in the rain with friends for hot baths alone at home. Hiking in the Cajas gave way to struggling uphill to the market for cat food, dining out morphed into a forgettable meal delivered by a masked man on a motorcycle. Daily life was diluted in an endless stream of watching the imaginary lives of others on television or drowning in a sea of endless babble on the internet.
It is far too easy for some to leave friends awash in the wake of their own ebullience while neglecting their duty to reach out to those who are shut in the windowless room of isolation and neglect. They need our help just as much as we have enjoyed the fruits of their labors, and learned from the wisdom that they gathered over many years.
So, how can we best assist each other in times of loneliness and need? Infusing fresh energy into Cuenca Expat Assist is one good place to start. Their work establishing the Yellow Dot Program and pioneering a phone tree app are shining examples of community activism at its best.
Volunteering in service to others is a fine way to enrich your life, and it always creates new friendships for everyone. CEA, and many other organizations dedicated to helping others, are waiting for you to answer the call to participate in a project, or projects, far too important to be bypassed while distracted by dreams of our own making.
IdiomART is another option. This is an art gallery/studio space that offers a multitude of classes year-round, such as mosaic workshops, fine art instruction, and fiber arts programs. A pleasant bonus is their community kitchen, lounging area, and peaceful gardens, a combination of fine art and living the art of daily life. Giving a certificate for a class or workshop would make an excellent Christmas present for someone who would otherwise be left alone at home.
Devoting time to giving attention to others need not be reserved for the holiday season alone. Incorporating a little time to care for one another can, and should, be a part of our everyday life. Every reader of CuencaHighLife knows of or has read of a neighbor who needs and deserves a moment of your help; give it fully and without reservation. The gifts you will gain in return will last far beyond the ‘spirit of the season’; it will even outlast the day when it is your turn to ask for a little assistance.
We are but simple people passing through time. For each of us, a day is approaching when we too will need a little attention and a kind word. Paying forward now will ease our own bumpy ride that is waiting for us just beyond the horizon.
Are you sad because you’re on your own?
No, I get by with a little help from my friends.