All the lonely people – let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby

One of my favorite songs by The Beatles is one about lonely people – “Eleanor Rigby” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney with Paul singing the lead and John singing a haunting echo that rounds out the song. The song highlights two lonely people, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, who meet each other at the very end of Rigby’s life as McKenzie is the only one attending her funeral. Here are the lyrics:

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream

Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near

Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?

We are a lonely lot of beings. It is only when we reach out to others, do we alter this fact. I am afraid we are becoming more alone as we become more disconnected. Michael Gerson’s column earlier this week introduced me to Robert Putnam, a Harvard Sociologist, who Gerson hopes is wrong about his findings. What are they? Putnam has done research on the rising individualism which has liberated us from social commitments. His data goes back to the 1990s.

What Putnam has discovered through an analysis of this data is we are shunning attendance at various social outings such as church services, bowling leagues, Moose lodges, company picnics and parties, etc. We have cocooned more by choice and now are more inclined to be less civil.  He also notes the trend is not distributed equally, as the working class is the group that has become more disconnected. He notes upper and middle class parents are continuing to introduce their kids to more social avenues, but others are suffering and it abets income inequality. He notes social connectedness is a strong predictor of later success whether it is test scores, college attendance or income.

In addition to other measures, he encourages having healthier community institutions and engaging families to participate more. He encourages stronger family units through birth control to prevent early pregnancies and permit better family planning. He also encourages more economic leveling approaches which will help those on the bottom end make a decent living. I would add a comment I have heard in my work with impoverished people – we need to build off community assets. For example, each community should have a vibrant public school or public park that is inviting of extracurricular activities for the students, parents and other citizens. These become community centers. As communities are improved, we need to allow for safe and inviting public gathering places that will attract events, meetings, etc.

And, we need to unplug and get out. Social media has enabled us to share and reach out to far more people, but it can also make us loners. Let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby’s and Father McKenzie’s. Let’s get out and meet and greet each other. It is the best way to stop the loneliness.


8 thoughts on “All the lonely people – let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby

  1. Exactly the point of the Shut Down column I re-blogged a few weeks back. We are becoming more isolated as individual even as we accumulate more “Friends” on our social media. An oxymoron of the worst kind.

    Good post, makes me want to stop looking out the window, and go outside to experience it.

  2. Great post and agree with its sentiments. I really wonder how the Gen Z kids will interact 10 years from now given their constant consumption of digital friendship and messaging. My fear is that you can build the community facilities and no one under the age of 35 will come. The digitised world seems far too convenient and instantaneous for this generation.

    • Judy, we need to still make the effort. I am a big user of public parks with and without my family. Yesterday, I dropped my daughter off for an orientation session at bird rehab facility where she wants volunteer this summer. It was on a park ground, so I killed time by hiking, reading and people watching. The park had a spring festival where lots of families brought the families to canoe, fish, and play. It was wonderful to see. With that said, the public parks are still underutilized, so we need to encourage their use.

      On the school front, there is a community advocate who preaches building and improving schools to help impoverished neighborhoods. The community will take pride and use it. But, again your point is well taken, as we need to make it enticing to use with programs, activities, etc.

      Thanks for your thoughts, BTG

  3. Good post, and it seems sadly true to me. I teach in a college, and I find it a little odd how unconnected young people are to the other people sitting next to them in the classroom. They are constantly looking down at their cell phones to text, facebook or whatever, but they are afraid to interact with the other people in the room. Puzzling.

    I wonder if another part of the problem, though, is that we are all so darn busy–with jobs, carting kids around to their extracuricular activities, etc. I suspect many people just feel too exhausted to reach out and join community groups. Just a thought.

    • Debra, I think you hit the mail on the head about being too busy, especially with single parent moms and dads. Yet, I have also noted that people think they are busier than they are. There is an old saying if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person as they are used to finding a way. Also, people hurry up to get places to do nothing but dilly dally when they get there.

      As a teacher, maybe you should try little social experiments and have odd ball ice breakers once a week. Anything is worth a shot. Thanks for stopping by, BTG

  4. What I observe is that families will go to public places such as schools and parks if events and activities are provided (for free) but are not so comfortable hanging out as “just a family” and making up their own activities. Maybe part of it is that families are so much smaller now (lots of one parent and/or one child families) that they don’t create a lot of play energy! I know when I was a single parent with one child, my kid would play with other kids (total strangers) at the playground but the parents didn’t interact much, and it felt very isolating when the “intact” families went home together for dinner and it was just us two left.

    • Thanks for your insight and experience. I agree, free stuff is always a draw, even if it has a kitty to donate to. My wife and I were vacationing in Blowing Rock, NC and they had this marvelous gazebo next to large pond in their city park. We stumbled onto a live concert which they do routinely as we were returning from dinner. It was one of the nicest experiences I can remember. The entertainers were actually music teachers who schooled at a nearby university.

      I think your story about one parent families is more the norm. Maybe you see fewer at these occasions as it is hard to be a working mother, as you know all to well. Thanks again for stopping by. BTG

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