In early November I was contacted by a woman who runs a conversation group at a senior citizens center on the Upper East Side asking if I’d be interested in leading the group in discussion. My curiosity was instantly piqued, as I had enjoyed leading conversation groups at a local bookstore in 2003-04.

Today was the day. I quickly remembered why I like it. The dialogue. The listening. The opening. The sharing. It’s so unpredictable.

I prepared a handout and we worked through the quotes in our hour together.  The women in the group were fascinating and forthcoming in their responses and I was delighted by the experience.

Here are the quotes we used for discussion:

From James Nave, poet:

Sometimes Paris can be happy, sometimes lonely.

From Approaching Eye Level by Vivian Gornick:

“At other times — when no one is around and no one is available — I stare out the window, thinking, What a fool you are to glamorize life in the city. Loneliness engulfs me like dry heat. It is New York loneliness, hot with shame, a loneliness that tells you you’re a fool and a loser. Everyone else is feasting, you alone cannot gain a seat at the banquet.”

“My shoulders straighten, my stride lengthens. The misery in my chest begins to dissolve out. The city is opening itself to me. I feel myself enfolded in the embrace of the crowded street, its heedless expressiveness the only invitation I need not to feel shut out.”

“Nothing heals me of a sore and angry heart like a walk through the very city I often feel denying me. To see in the street the fifty different ways people struggle to remain human until the very last minute – the variety and inventiveness of survival technique – is to feel the pressure relieved, the overflow draining off. I join the anxiety, I share the condition, I feel in my nerve endings the common refusal to go under. Never am I less alone than alone in the crowded street. Alone, I imagine myself. Alone, I buy time. Me, and everyone I know. Me, and all the New York friends.”

From A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

What a commentary on our civilization when being alone is considered suspect, when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it — like a secret vice!

Paul Johannes Tillich, theologian & philosopher:

Language has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone, and the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.