Solitude is something I used to long for, a quiet time when no one could get into my head.
For a short while, when my children were young, when a moment alone was as precious as diamonds, I looked forward to a few minutes of aloneness…when I took a bath.
That special “my” time ended when my young son brought his friends upstairs to visit with me while I was in the tub.
I thought I might find it late at night after the children were in bed, but my solitude was ever elusive unless you count the late-night walks with the dog or trying to find the cat under a neighbor’s porch or just the ordinary stuff that you do then because you didn’t have time earlier.
Fatigue is not the same as solitude.
I could feel no particular meditative quality to folding laundry at 1 a.m., don’t think I would even now. Solitude requires being alone and there is a big distinction between being alone and being lonely.
While I searched for solitude, I experienced loneliness. I have felt lonely many times among my children and their friends.
You can’t imagine how lonely you feel when you are trying to play Monopoly with people who can’t read. I have felt lonely at parties, particularly when I was with people I had just met. I’m not very good at small talk. And, yes, I know there are those out there who know me who just can’t believe that, since talking is one of my very favorite things to do, but not at parties, especially at parties with relative strangers. And, speaking of relatives, there is the particular loneliness you feel when among in-law relatives who have common histories in which you don’t play a part.
There are few times when I have felt lonelier than when sitting in an office where all of the men were talking sports. I might as well have been sitting outside or in a closet.
Most loneliness comes from within, I suspect.
I might have chosen another game with preliterate children; worked harder at finding commonalities at parties or asked some questions of my sports crazed colleagues. I haven’t worked out how to accommodate the in-laws’ history, but everything has a solution…some more difficult than others. It’s that reaching out beyond your comfort zone, wherever that is located, that takes so much effort.
The era in which we live generates a particular loneliness.
The electronic media that keep us always connected can divide us, put miles between the whomevers of our lives.
The internet has dramatic limitations for human communication. We connect but we don’t touch. We speak or write but we don’t meet.
The frequency of social media belies its limits. Value judgments, the weight of electronically generated words, intent…all elusive and often misunderstood. We rarely carry on conversations, the back and forth of friendship or debate.
Words spoken or texted are still the metaphors for authentic reality.
Phones, computers and such are not an adequate substitute for human exchange. We exist on “pages,” in blogs, on Instagram, etc. but often do not know our next-door neighbors. We have divided ourselves into “us” and “them.”
The loss of those connections has become a modern malady. The loneliness epidemic spread, as the loss of interpersonal face to face interaction has isolated us from one another, reaches all ages.
I have no idea what a play date is. When we were children, we played with each other, outside.
We were part of a community of families and neighbors that interacted without plan. Now children are cosseted by television, computers, games, phones and such that being with other children in the business of play needs an appointment.
How many elders remain alone without touch or talk or a daily meaningful encounter?
The loss of kith and kin, whether by default or design, separates us from the strength of our human essence. We need to find again, those ways to be with others, to be again robustly part of something bigger than “I,” to redefine that “I” by reaching out beyond it.
We even have a holiday that tells us how important being together is.
In the broadest sense, Thanksgiving is a family holiday, acknowledging the strength of familial and friendship bonds.
On this particular Thanksgiving, when there are so many societal forces challenging those bonds, it might be worth a few minutes to first, be grateful for those we have been able to maintain and secondly, to resolve to diminish the divides that separate us from those we love.
Can we accommodate even the crazy uncles, the arrogant aunts and the badly brought up children? Can we find a filter that drowns out the drama in favor of the charity of affection? Maybe the biggest argument could be whether the cranberry sauce is jellied or whole.
OK, maybe that is asking too much. But, try.
The next thing you know people will stop in the street and chat. Discussions will replace disagreements and name calling will be left to middle schoolers.
The Nosey Neighbor will arise and amidst complaints about everyone knowing your business you will also know that you are part of a whole that counts you as important.
Having conquered loneliness, you begin you search for solitude.