Carol (not her real name) lives alone.
She didn’t plan it that way. She moved to the U.S. from Bangalore to live with a friend, and to obtain costly medical treatment for a virus she contracted from a blood transfusion many years ago.
But Carol's friend was diagnosed with dementia and now lives in a nursing home. She no longer recognizes Carol when she visits. And that makes Carol even more lonely.
I know all of this because I drove Carol to her treatment yesterday and bought her a cup of coffee afterwards. My all-in cost: Two bucks and two hours of my summer.
But the payback was so much more. Because I learned that Carol has a Ph.D. from the same university where I teach, was one of the first female scientists in her field, and has a lived a rich life filled of family, friends and a dog and a cat, all of whom she misses—madly.
There are millions of older people like Carol in this country, living alone, with stories to tell, and with enormous wisdom to share. And all we have to do is listen.
Do me a favor and buy a cup of coffee for the next Carol you meet. I'll even pick up the tab, if you send it to me.
Because unlike so many other maladies, loneliness is a disease we all can cure—and it doesn't cost a fortune for any of us to do so.