A person can be alone in a crowd. A person can even be quite alone in a room awash in conversation. I had the opportunity to experience this sort of loneliness in Puerto Rico. Being a Yankee from New England, it is hardly a shock that I do not speak Spanish. While I have been diligently studying the language for months, my command of it is extremely limited. I can speak a few basic sentences and recognize many words, but my conversational skills come to an end after basic inquiries about name, occupation and views on Plato’s theory of forms.
Since I visited Puerto Rico so as to meet my girlfriend’s family I spent a considerable amount of time visiting relative after relative. While Puerto Rico is often presented a bi-lingual country, this is not the case with her family. As such, I would go to a house and be introduced. After that, everyone would have a great time catching up and relating stories. Everyone that is, except me.
What would happen was very much like what happens when a group of top runners allows a beginning jogger to try to tag along with them on a training run. At first, there is a good natured attempt to help the slowpoke keep up, but then it becomes obvious that dealing with the slowpoke simply ruins the run. The slowpoke falls behind, wheezing and puffing as the runners continue onward, perhaps with a final wave, smile and encouraging word.
In the conversations, I would quickly lose the details and, at best, have a vague idea of the topic. My girlfriend would initially try to let me know what was going on, especially when the subject was me. However, that would prove awkward in a matter of minutes and she would simply stop trying. I would then sit there while the conversations went on and on around me, picking up a word or phrase here and there. But, it was like trying to watch a movie by opening my eyes a second or two every ten minutes-it just didn’t work.
Conversation is, of course, a bond that ties people together and helps make people feel that they belong. When you cannot speak with someone in a meaningful way, it is hard not to feel alone-even in a crowded room.