Alienation – the process/ state to make someone feel isolated or estranged. I like how visual the word “alienation” is. When I see the word, I conjure this image in my mind – a room full of people who look the same and this ET with green eyes and ears on the head stands right in the middle. The ET with the green eyes stands out awkwardly, yet no one in the room seemingly pays any attention to its presence. The people are engaged in their own conversations and the alien is left to wonder, “Are they talking about me? Am I even here? Am I physically or simply metaphysically here?”
I was alone in the basement lab, feeding the lung cancer cells grown in flasks with nutrients, when she came in. We smiled at each other, acknowledging the presence of the other person in the small room. Soon after I was done feeding the cells, I turned around and started a small talk.
Me: How are you? Are your experiments going well?
E: Yes. And for you?
Me: Still good.
An awkward silence crept up upon us. Finally she spoke again.
E: By the way, are you free tomorrow?
Me: I think so, why?
E: It’s my birthday tomorrow and I would like to invite you for the party.
Me: Oh, sure, I will be there!
On that night, I wrote a birthday message to her on the back of a Singapore postcard. I struggled with the writing and that was when I realized I didn’t know much about her except that she was a new girl in the lab. We exchanged plesantries almost everyday but we knew little about each other. I remember thanking her for reminding me to wear the lab coat in the lab and I remember inviting her to visit me in Singapore soon.
The next day came. It turned out I was the only one at the “party” as the other people were “busy” and they had politely declined her invitation. I remember she was touched to receive the postcard with the handwritten birthday greetings. We went to a Italian restaurant near her place and had a nice dinner. That was when we began to get to know each other. Later we were joined by her flatmate and her group of friends for drinks.
From then on, we spent a lot of time together and became good friends and supported each other tremendously. We spoke about how we felt alienated in this lab and interestingly, we realized that the loneliness and insecurities that we experienced in this place were largely similar. There were things that we couldn’t understand and there were times when we felt left out by the other people.
And it all began with a little openness and kindness. You don’t have to struggle alone.
“Kindness begets kindness” – Greek proverb.