Connect with Someone You Care For: Begin with "Hello In There"

"Hello In There" is a sad but beautiful song about growing older and being alone by John Prine.  The picture it paints might seem pretty bleak at first.  It's strange, though: as sad as this song appears to be, there also seems to be something hopeful about it at the same time.  All he's asking us to do is to pay attention and connect with someone we care for, literally to say to them, "Hello."

It's pretty classic Prine.  If you're not already a fan, you should at least give the recording below a try.  And if you are already know him, take this opportunity listen to this tune again and appreciate his genius.  It works because his character cares about connecting with his wife of many years, Loretta.  And it works on us because we empathize with him.

It turns out we all know people who are suffering from isolation and loneliness and we know how debilitating it can be to them and their partner, their children and their friends.  If we're honest with ourselves and paying attention as we grow older, we can see it all around us, perhaps even experiencing it ourselves at one point or another in our lives. 

Of course, I'm not suggesting that simply saying "hello" is a solution to this serious problem in our society.  On the other hand, it's a necessary first step, a compassionate gesture, an opening, a beginning.  Whether you aim to engage with a partner, parent, friend, neighbor or even a stranger, a connection starts with a simple greeting, acknowledging the individual, being present.  In fact, isolation and loneliness are not inevitable.  And we can do something about it.  Any of us can connect or reconnect with someone we care for.  We can start with a simple, "Hello in there." 

Hello to Break the Silence, Isolation and Loneliness

Listen to the tune.  Then read on to find out how Meema Stories can help you build on that "hello" and connect.  

It begins:

We had an apartment in the city
Me and Loretta liked living there
Well, it's been years since the kids had grown
A life of their own, left us alone

Singing in the first person, it's amazing how the simple melody and only four lines establishes the identity of the singer and his reflective and intimate tone.  In the next verse he further develops this persona.  You can feel yourself drawn in.  No matter your age, you connect and empathize with his character, sharing his experience of loss, separation and isolation. 

John and Linda live in Omaha
And Joe is somewhere on the road
We lost Davy in the Korean war
And I still don't know what for, it don't matter anymore

He's resigned to his loss.  It all seems so senseless and he's given up hope.  As if that weren't enough, in the refrain he seems to be saying that such loneliness and isolation and meaninglessness are normal, an inevitable consequence of aging.  

You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello"

But is that what he saying?  Look again.  He's right, of course.  Old people CAN grow lonesome while they're waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there."   But what if they never have to wait for long?  Will they ever grow lonesome?  Is that possible?

No, loneliness and isolation and meaninglessness are NOT normal and NOT an inevitable consequence of aging.  

He's not done with us yet, however.  After the opening "hello," he tells us, it can get complicated.  It may turn out to be not quite that easy:

Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more
She sits and stares through the back door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen

Someday I'll go and call up Rudy
We worked together at the factory
But what could I say if he asks "What's new?"
"Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do"

Seriously.  This lonely cowboy still has a real problem.  And we do too.  What CAN we talk about after "hello?"  We'll come back to this in a minute.  But for now, just remember this:

You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello"

So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello"

Prine is right, of course.  What he's asking us to do is simple enough.  And the gesture likely to help.  But we don't.  And one reason, it seems to me, is that it feels awkward, uncomfortable.  And there's that nagging concern:  we ask ourselves, "What then?"  What can we talk about AFTER we say hello?

Using Meema Stories To Get Beyond "Hello"

Well, this is something we know about here at Meema:  we actually think Meema Stories can help anyone discover things to talk about from their own experience AFTER they say, "Hello." 

It's not hard.  Anyone can do it.  It's even fun.  You find a story you like, share it, and then you can talk about it.  The structure makes it less awkward.  And the story gives you something to talk about after "hello."

Here are some things you can do to get started.  First, try this tutorial to learn how it works.  Read some of the other blog posts about stories that we've been sharing and how it works here and here.  Explore the catalog for for a story that will interest both you and the person you're caring for.  Most of them are only two or three minutes long.  Many of them have iconic images, audio and video that will engage both of you.  As you review each Meema Story, imagine how you might start a conversation about something you notice in the story or how it makes you feel.  Consider sharing something meaningful, something personal that you associate with the story, something authentic that will draw out your care partner. 

And after you've thought about the Meema Story on your own, you can try it with the person you're caring for.  Reach out and say, "Hello."  Tell them you found a something on the internet you want to share with them and just do it, face to face or over Zoom.  It may feel a little awkward at first.  It'll help if you both like something about the Meema Story you have selected.  After you both engage with the Meema Story, engage with each other.  Share your own observations, your own feelings, your own associations.  Wait.  And listen.  Engage.  Try again.  Learn.

Essentially, the Meema Story provides a context for your personal stories and what you need to stimulate and sustain conversation. Trust yourself.  Be honest.  Be authentic.  Share.  One story leads to another.  And connection.

Don't Forget to Reflect

When Prine wrote this song in 1971, it was unusual for singer-songwriters to write and sing about aging, decline and despair in a time that was so focused on youth, growth and possibilities.  It may be even more remarkable that inside the dark and disturbing context, there is hope.  And it's astounding that he was only 25 when he wrote it, that most of his audience was the same age, and that they all apparently got the message.  At the time, they were all thinking about their grandparents, of course.  But now, after 50 years, the wisdom of his message speaks to each of us much more directly and more powerfully than ever, especially the hopeful refrain, "Hello in there."