The first real job I ever had was delivering newspapers on the north slope of Queen Anne Hill. I was a paper boy for three years and was responsible for my own collections. At the end of each month I would visit each home on my route and announce myself: “Collecting for the Seattle Times!”
There were many lessons I learned from my days as a paper boy, but none greater than the importance of paying attention to people who are lonely. It’s where I learned the meaning of the saying, “What goes around comes around.”
When I was a kid, there were two people you could count on seeing every day: the postman and paper boy. (Both of these jobs seemed to be the domain of males back then. Thankfully, that is no longer the case!)
It appeared to me that many on my route were simply starved for human connection. Even at my tender age I could identify the look of loneliness.
I remember an elderly woman on Bertona Street who regularly had her nose pressed against her window waiting for me to deliver her paper. She always greeted me with a big smile, and occasionally invited me in for a little chat and some baked cookies.
My route included delivering papers to the annex of the county hospital, which housed long-term, mostly indigent patients who seldom, if ever, had visitors. Sadly, many would only leave the hospital when they were carried out on a gurney to a pauper’s grave.
And yet, without a doubt, the county hospital was the stop I enjoyed the most. Often my deliveries would extend through dinner hour because of all the visiting I did along the way. There was never a sense they wanted anything from me but a little companionship and good conversation. I took an interest in them and they took an interest in me.
There were two remarkable roommates: John, a polio victim from the age of three; and Mike, a quadriplegic from a swimming accident when he was a teenager. They were two of the most animated, interesting and fun-loving guys I ever met. They both loved betting on the horses, playing poker, and flirting with the nurses. During the racing season they counted on me to phone in their bets.
When Kennedy was assassinated I found myself spending extra time at the hospital. I learned something from those folks I’ve never forgotten: come what may, life goes on. This, too, shall pass.
I got more than I gave.
I began to plan extra time in my monthly collections for those who needed a neighborly visit. In fact, I rather looked forward to it because it made me happy to be appreciated, and frankly, at that time in my life, that meant a lot to me.
- The elderly woman on McGraw who lost her only son in World War II
- The retired football player with one leg and no family
- The lady on Warren whose family died in a Polish death camp
I had neighborly visits with each them.
This past year of pandemic has reminded me of what I learned as a paper boy: the importance of human connection. It can make all the difference when we feel down and lonely, as all of us have at least some of the time this year. I wonder if, at end of this pandemic, there will be a way to count the lives lost to loneliness. We humans are not meant to be solitary creatures.
Perhaps it’s time we all find our inner paper boys and paper girls and share a moment with someone feeling lonely.
For the truth is — we are them.
Just a thought…
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