This Solitude Thing

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
Honoré de Balzac

I wake and he’s already gone, catching an early plane out of Zurich. I don’t even know what time his flight leaves.

I can tell by the light filtering through the blinds that it is grey outside. It is Sunday and I am alone. My husband’s off on another flight, to another meeting, this time in Boston. Yes, that would be in the U.S. Yes, that would mean I am here by myself.

I feel the quiet of the apartment and I know I will be inside of my own head all day today. I get out of bed, begin the movements that start the day – brew the coffee, make the bed, haul the dirty clothes down to the washing machine in the basement of the building.

All of the tasks that structure the day, that absorb the minutes, that distract me from the loneliness. As romantic and wonderful as this entire overseas experience has been, there are going to be days like this.

It kind of reminds me of when the kids were babies and Mac had to travel.The days would stretch out in front of me and I would somehow find a way to fill up the minutes. I struggled to make it to the evening when I could put them to bed and go to sleep myself, so as to wake up one day closer to his return.

And I always felt a funny sense of accomplishment that I had made it through until he came back.

This is not a dirge about how hard my life is, I know I have it good. It’s just me taking a moment to admit that not all of travel is glamorous. There will always be those times between all the great adventures, where life slows down and I find myself in my own little domain of alone-ness.

These are the days that fill in the blanks beside all of fun activities on the calendar. The in-between times where I go to bed alone, wake up alone. When there is a quietness in the house that can feel so heavy.

So, what do I do?  I write.

My loneliness and my writing seem to be intimately connected. I feel the longing to reach out and talk to someone through my laptop. Maybe it is a way of being with myself – cheering myself up, doing something I love to do, simple distraction. I am just so glad that I have this gig.

Paul Tillich once said that there are two words in our language for being alone, loneliness and solitude. It’s what you do with your alone time, how you approach it – as blessing or burden – that makes the difference.

We all feel the lonely kind of being alone. Where we long for some one, some thing, some place to fill up our empty spaces. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, to say the least, inconsolably painful at its worst.

There’s nothing easy about living with pain and suffering and loneliness.Our culture loves to dangle all the cures to eliminate it in front of us. But I think that’s a mistake because I believe it is a natural state that we can learn from. The problem is that we think that the bad feelings will consume us, and never let us go.

But, as Buddhist philosophy would advise, the state of pain is transitory, it’s simply the holding on to it that causes actual suffering.

In other words, we are so busy being afraid and running from discomfort that we make it worse. If we could sit with our pain and listen carefully to what it teaches us, we might pass through the state of unhappiness and become wiser about ourselves. I’m not talking about depression.

It’s this other way, this way of letting our emotional states flow though our bodies, that intrigues me.

I fought a bit of anxiety this morning being here alone. After my chores, I tried to distract myself with some soccer on television. But, later it kept nagging at me. So I had to talk to myself and let the panicky feeling go. It was weird, the anxious feelings actually quieted.

And while the apartment still felt empty, it was a full emptiness, if that makes any sense at all.

The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
Lois Lowry, The Giver

It occurs to me that in this whole, solo time of writing, I’ve been dealing with thoughts that needed to be shared. And I’ve filled up this corner of solitude to do it. So many memories from the past, of my mother, my family, have just been seeking a release. Yes, there have been times where it’s been hard, uncomfortable.

But, the fact is, it hasn’t been a lonely process at all.

I’ve allowed myself to just be with my own feelings. And then I felt like I could write. And then I was able to send the words along to you. It has felt like the writing had to break out of this place of deep solitude within me. Whether anyone actually read my pieces or not was just a whole other matter.

And now the moon is rising and the lights are coming on in the little apartment windows across the parking lot, and I feel grateful. Just for the simple act of tapping on this keyboard.

Another day gone by, hours of time passed doing what I love to do. I miss my husband, I miss my family, but I’m okay.

I think I’m getting the hang of this solitude thing.

2 thoughts on “This Solitude Thing

  1. Each of your writings causes me to reflect on my own life, and today I am thinking of how my mother wanted each of her children to have “alone time,” to feel comfortable with ourselves, as a way to understand individual inner strength. Beth, you captured the push-pull of being alone, the difference between loneliness and solitude, the positives that have happened during your trip. I have benefitted from your writings, and I doubt if you would have shared from the heart in this way if you and Mac had spent the same amount of time in a familiar place. Thank you, thank you, for allowing me to be a part of this journey.


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