Talk about solitude. How much time do you spend being alone and what made you realise that it’s important to know how to walk alone in life? – Anonymous
I write this from a boutique hotel tucked in the tattered streets of Marseille, France; currently alone.
Recently I have been alone a lot. Living alone, eating alone, wandering through the streets of New York (and now France) alone. I wake up alone, go to sleep alone, decorate my apartment alone. In a city of billions of people it’s actually quite easy to feel entirely alone. But alone does not mean lonely. Or at least not always.
I’m an only child on my mother’s side. Grew up in a house with just she and I. At one point we lived in one of the only houses on the side of a windy hill. We were very alone there. Only children grow up finding ways to entertain themselves. No loud, bustling household. No packed dinner table. No sharing. You create many worlds in which to live. You become many people so you are never, in fact, alone. I read a lot.
Time alone is essential. It helps us to digest what we experience. It aids in our understanding of ourselves. I’m weary of those who can’t be alone. It seems to mean they are turbulent on the inside. Unsettled, unresolved. Who you are shouldn’t frighten you. For me, being alone is like coming home. A return of sorts. In the words of mathematician Blaise Pascal, “All man’s miseries come from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” I’m assuming the same goes for woman.
I can’t speak to anyone here. The French can be self conscious of their English and don’t speak it willingly. Oh, and I also don’t speak a lick of French. Surrounded by millions of people, but again alone.
We are always alone. I think I’ve just always understood that, or felt that. The love from friends and family is unmatchable, but at the end of the day it’s you and you. You’re all you’ve really got. In the words of Orson Welles, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” But beneath the illusion, we are in fact alone.
Both of my parents are alone. Or unmarried. They require lots of time alone. Perhaps it’s genetic? In fact it is. Introversion and extroversion are inherent personality qualities that we are born with. You can take a The Myers Briggs personality assessment to learn which you are. Although, you likely already know. Surprisingly I think I qualify as an introvert because the following things are true about me:
“ – I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world
– I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with
– Ideas are almost solid things for me
– I am comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own
– I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough”
If you agree with these statements, you might be an introvert too.
But I’ve felt something interesting here in France. I’ve felt the deep, primal need to connect with others. A tug, or a thirst. A hunger. And it is magnified, or perhaps evident at all, because of how difficult it is to speak with people. I naively assumed the solitude of travel in a foreign place would be refreshing, and it is, but it’s day two and baby is homesick.
My dad, the same one who likes to be alone, always stressed the importance of touch. I miss touch. I can do without people, but touch is essential. Like a cat who wants to be pet, fed, and then left alone. Un chat.
Perhaps I have gotten too good at being alone. It is too comfortable, too essential. So as important as it is to be alone I would say to you that what you gain from solitude should only then enhance your relationships with others. By being alone we gain depth of understanding and compassion for ourselves – what worth is it then unless it blossoms into depth of understanding and compassion for others? Because, in the words of John Joseph Powell, “It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until is has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”