Lonely at the Lunch Table
You’ve seen it: someone eating alone in a restaurant, a child walking the perimeter of the playground instead of playing, a classmate attending the prom solo in a pale blue tux just to say he went, a loved one spending holidays without their better half remembering happier times. I was taught to have empathy for the lonely, a soft spot for people who don’t fit in. I believe in stopping loneliness at the lunch table.
The school lunchroom can be a stereotypical place. We tend to categorize the tables- Goths, Emos, Jocks, and Geeks. Nonetheless, there is always that new kid; that specific person who doesn’t belong to any group and simply sits alone, eating half-cooked pizza and drinking expired milk, wishing to be invisible but sticking out like a sore thumb.
I have come across a few of these loners in my middle school years, wanting to stop the loneliness and make a difference but fearing the outcome. I specifically remember a time when I strolled absentmindedly through the cafeteria with all of my friends. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a little boy in the sixth grade. Small in stature, he looked almost fragile, like he needed protecting. His almond shaped eyes were hidden behind his heavy framed Harry Potter glasses. The smooth skin on his face looked as cold as ice. I couldn’t help but notice how he was dressed. He looked clean and well cared for but sad just the same. It was almost like he was prey being made vulnerable to a predator-sitting alone at a table too big for one person, especially him. I wanted to help, to rescue him from his loneliness at that lunch table.
Too quickly to make sense of it all, I walked over and introduced myself. Jacob was his name. He sat quiet and tense, fidgeting with his food. In spite of his lack of participation and less than warm reception, I continued the conversation. I answered my own questions, hoping he was comforted by my actions.
Just as I don’t really remember how I started our conversation, I’m not sure how it ended. I remember Jacob never responded, and I never saw him again in the lunch room or anywhere else. Even though our encounter was brief, I am confident in the fact that I did all I could do to make him feel welcome. I stopped Jacob’s loneliness at the lunch table. At least I tried.