By Kristen Johnson
Loneliness – it’s the human condition, or so we’re told. I know I’ve felt it before and I know I’m not alone. It seems that though we are constantly surrounded by people, we aren’t connected to any of them. We drive past other cars, shop near people in the grocery store, nod politely at the delivery person. But in our strange world of smartphones, internet access, and online video communications, we can’t maintain or even begin a decent communication with anyone around us.
Loneliness has been linked to cognitive decline as well as physical illness. It seems to be a particular problem in older people, as about one in three people over the age of 65 live alone. One study found that about 43% of people over the age of 60 reported feelings of loneliness. (NY Times).
When people have a problem with loneliness, or estrangement, or some sort of crisis, they may turn to drugs, alcohol, or some other form of self-abuse. But, many times these same people may also turn to hotlines for help. We’ve all seen advertisements for hotlines – they run the gamut from everything from .rape crisis, to sex talk, to prayer requests. But, in the end, it really seems to be that people need each other, so they reach out for help.
The documentary Hotline documents the lives of many of these hotline workers and their experiences working with the public. It’s somewhat difficult to watch, simply because you can feel the loneliness in the stories of their clients, and I felt a lot of the despair and loneliness myself just watching it. But, it was also uplifting in many ways because the people working at these hotlines have such love and caring for people who are complete strangers that you will really feel that depth of character in each and every one of them.
The filmmakers interviewed quite a few people working in a wide variety of hotlines, which was nice to see the different ways people help each other. The commonality in each and every single one of them was the loneliness factor. They all mentioned it – that people call because they want a connection with someone. The most difficult discussions were about suicide hotlines and 911 dispatch operators. It really seemed like the workers were as traumatized by their work as the people they were trying to help. Also, fair notice that the “creepiest” interviews were with sexline workers. I can’t imagine the kind of loneliness someone must be feeling to call a virtual stranger for that kind of talk. And, frankly, the other “creepy” interview was with a worker at a “prayer” line. He looked and acted exactly like the proverbial snake-oil salesman and he mentioned in the first minute that homosexuality is a sin (which wasn’t what the interview was about at all). I can’t imagine calling that line – it seemed much more like a hellfire line than a prayer line.
I think the documentary is an important one because it reminds us to be cognizant of the people around us. They are lonely, they are seeking, and they need us. The truth is that it’s easy to get caught up in work, fooling around on Facebook, and zoning out in front of the television set. It’s difficult to get out there and leave the loneliness. And, it’s easy to remember the people who have hurt us in the past. But, it’s worth it to try to connect with the world. And, it’s important to remember that God will never leave us. He is the ultimate solution to what we are seeking and will fill our souls.
Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV): do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Serve all with love.
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