Portraits Around the World: A Bench Friend

Every week I tell the story behind a photograph featuring the portrait of a person that made me think. Sometimes they’re about capturing a moment, other times they’re about the story within. To see more Portraits Around the World, click here.

Have you ever noticed how older people often hang out in public places alone? Like when I’m walking through the streets of Dominican Republic there’s always a dude hanging out by the pigeons sipping his coffee and people watching, or when I’m taking a stroll through the park there’s always someone that reminds me of my grandfather. It’s not uncommon in Korea for an older person to stop you  to ask, “Where are you from,” in mumbled English, just to strike up a conversation.

This isn’t a new observation, or even one I’ve only experienced overseas. I went out to dinner with  my college boyfriend some years ago while we were  living in Orlando, Florida, and as we were walking out of this Italian restaurant I noticed an elderly man. He was enjoying a plate of meatballs and spaghetti by himself, and I remember breaking down into uncontrollable tears. He looked at me like I was crazy, of course (my ex-boyfriend, not the lonesome man). I couldn’t stand the idea of him eating by himself, imagining his solitude. Now that I look back at this ridiculous dramatization I created of a strangers life, I realize that maybe (just maybe) he liked eating alone. Perhaps this was his favorite place to indulge in a ritual of tomato sauce and noodles. Who knows? Maybe he was out shopping at the grocery store and decided he was hungry.

Why does being alone have to be lonely?

It baffles me because I always think, “Why wouldn’t you stay home and order takeout?” Then, the more I think about it, I realize what a generation gap it is to think this way. I’d so much rather stay home and watch Netflix or read a book than venture out into the world only to sit on a park bench alone. What kind of competition is that? To stay home and basically interact with no one except fictional characters and my imagination, or to smell fresh air, see real people,  and know what the weather looks like without having to check my iPhone’s Weather App. What a gift. What a thought.


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Am I crazy? Have you ever observed something similar and realized that maybe you were seeing the wrong picture?

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1 Comment

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