The Mysteries of Loneliness

What I’m about to say might be best off as a poem. But let’s try it like this anyway.

This year I’ve lived alone for the first time in my life, and I can’t imagine giving it up. Solitude is a luxury equal to none. This place is my place with things where I put them and all my own beloved oddities on the wall. With the world being what it is, I can even order exactly the food I want to my door—I can choose what suits me at any given moment. I am not responsible for others, for understanding them or for making myself understood. I eat dinner anytime between 4:30 and 11:30. I sit in all my different chairs in turn and take long baths without guilt. I think aloud to myself. I look at a book or a screen or a wall or a pen in my hand or the mirror or out the window where the rain puddles on my neighbor’s paving stones. It’s so easy to be alone.

But sometimes I suspect it’s too easy. With the freedom I have, I choose less for myself. I choose a smaller, more manageable world in which obligations are trimmed to the bone and disruptions are strictly outlawed. But just because I am my own favorite company doesn’t mean I’m my own best company. And perhaps I should already know that I’m meant to have company other than myself.

For much of history this world has not been a place in which someone, particularly a woman, could survive well on her own. Except for believers who sequestered themselves as a decades-long spiritual discipline, people needed community: someone to fix the leaks and someone to bake the bread and someone to stitch the sheets and someone to take out the waste, someone to fill the cabinets with medicine, someone to feed the cattle and someone to keep the hearthfire burning. It took more than two hands to support the flourishing of a human life. In the popular imagination (or at least in mine) people who are perpetually alone eventually starve to death in cramped garrets in Paris while the world dances on just outside their door.

Which is all very confusing when being alone feels so nice.

On top of that, from what we see of Christ in scripture, he was just alone here and there—only when he expressly planned to be. In fact, his moments of solitude are notable exceptions in the midst of a full-to-overflowing life and ministry, just as devout hermits were notable exceptions in the midst of a general population of families and villages and towns. But of course, his life for the first thirty years, before his ministry really began, may have looked much different. We can’t take the pace of Jesus’ early thirties as an exactly prescriptive blueprint for the entirety of our own lives. (And yet, we shouldn’t just ignore it either…)

Perhaps it’s clear already that I have no closing statement to make. Really, I’m just beginning a conversation with myself. It’s not really a discussion of whether or not I should be alone, but rather how I should treat the solitude which already exists within and around me: As a restorative? As a reward? As a natural and unavoidable state? As a place to hide? As a place to create? As a place from which to escape? Or as a place into which to welcome others, a place which can be expanded? And if so, how? (And where and why and when?)

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