Awe and loneliness

Meaningful interactions with strangers.

People looking at some notes on the ground at the event.
Photo by Francois Le Nguyen

I enjoy being at home. I also have no trouble spending time alone. I value my close relationships, and I try to spend most of my people energy on meaningful interactions with deep conversations. But occasionally, I get this nagging need for new connections.

It’s not necessarily a need to make new friends, although I welcome that as well. There’s a part of me that simply enjoys meeting new people and sharing a moment of genuine connection with someone I don’t know.

Since moving to Berlin, I’ve been randomly seeking out opportunities to commune with strangers. Sometimes, the events are underwhelming and I get home feeling exhausted. Other times, the events hit the right spot between new connections and meaningful interactions.

Events like this are rare but so worth the search and wait. They serve as a reminder that there is opportunity for connection outside our micro-communities (family, close friends, etc.) and that there’s so much to learn from people we don’t know. I was at an event like this last Sunday, and I’m incredibly glad I went.

The title sounded like my brand of intriguing and mysterious: The Surprising Match of Awe and Loneliness. Two loaded terms and seemingly unrelated concepts—I was curious to see what happens here.

I appreciated the organizers’ effort in planning activities that encouraged us to explore our own experiences of awe and loneliness and share them with each other. It was group conversations mixed with one-on-one discussions and trust-building physical activities that were fun.

Loneliness and awe are deeply personal feelings, but we often experience them in relation to others. Though I’m not feeling particularly lonely nowadays, I’m no stranger to it. Some of my loneliest moments were in the company of people I knew very well.

My most memorable experiences of awe involve collective activity like dancing in unison with the crowd. When I’m in awe, I feel wonderfully small compared to the vastness of the experience.

I was amazed at (or should I say in awe of?) the quality of interactions I had with the people who were at the event—people I was meeting for the first time.

I connected with someone over the joy of learning to be alone without feeling lonely and other eerily similar life experiences. With my eyes closed and words forbidden, I had a humorous interaction with a stranger which led to unexpectedly funny and meaningful moments. I conversed with someone who valued disagreements (yes, please), and I met a room full of people comfortable with vulnerability among strangers.

I know these experiences are out of context for someone who wasn’t there. All I can say is, I would urge you and anyone to seek out meaningful gatherings like this. Communing with strangers doesn’t have to be awkward and exhausting; they can be enriching and surprising, helping us break the boundaries of our immediate circles.

This event was a special one. I might not see everyone again, but I’m grateful for the hours we shared. Thank you Monika and Laura for organizing and bringing this surprising match together.

Other thoughts