I don’t listen to music very often. When I do it has my full attention.
Everywhere we go these days we hear music in the background: in malls, restaurants, grocery stores, theater lobbies; even outdoor city sidewalks have music poured onto them like some sort of sweet, gooey corporate confection.
When I ride in a friend’s car and he has the radio turned on very low I want to reach over and shut it off. Or, turn it up and stop talking.
Elevators and telephone on-hold music are the worst, of course. That’s satanic torture, mind-numbing and inescapable.
What idiocy have we subscribed to? Why must we be soothed, excited or pummeled by music everywhere we go?
Most of the time I just want the world to be quiet. Silence is bliss. It’s the only way I can hear myself think.
When I want to hear music I decide which music, when, where and how.
And then I will actually listen to it, giving it my full attention and allowing it to fill me.
I love music. It deserves more respect than ambient noise.
When I was between marriages some thirty-four years ago I was forced to learn a very hard lesson most people manage to avoid all their lives:
I learned to be alone and to love it.
I had never been alone for more than a couple of hours or an afternoon at most. I grew up in my parents’ home, moved into an apartment with a buddy at 19, was married at 20 and lived with my first wife until I was thirty. Then, the divorce. Reality caved in on me and I found myself living in a small apartment with our newlywed furniture and nothing else that would ever allow me to use the word “our” again.
“Our” life was over. My life alone was beginning and I was terrified.
Forced to take a scheduled vacation alone, I rented a house near a beach north of Ft. Bragg, California, and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.
There is nothing more lonely than an unfamiliar house in which the only thing that is yours is you.
People who have never been married for a long time and have it suddenly collapse can’t know the vacancy of self mourning. I’m not talking about self pity, that’s the easy part, but rather, true self mourning. It has nothing to do with longing for the company of your ex-spouse. Missing your happy memories of that person is a given, but what I didn’t expect was the excruciating sense that half of the whole person I had become over my lifetime was suddenly nonexistent and would never return. I think it must feel exactly like being only half alive.
I missed everything that gave me comfort: my wife and son, our home, our street and neighbors, our dog, our daily routines. I was desperate to scar my soul, to stop the pain and repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away but I didn’t know how. So, I cried. It’s all I could do. I gave in to my grief completely, nonstop except for brief periods of respite provided by fatigue. Then, exhausted, I would tumble into a restless sleep and eventually awaken still empty, still lonely but refreshed enough to well up with pain once again and resume my suffering.
That’s the key, I think. Wallow in your misery. Be mindful of your physical well-being and force yourself to take care when nothing seems to matter, including self preservation. Eat when you should. Sleep as much as you can. I found writing to be cathartic but nothing heals like embracing pure grief, for that is its purpose.
During a lull in despondency during my lonely vacation, a few days after beginning my self-imposed confinement and getting bored with self pity, I stepped outside my rented home just to take a peek at the world.
The sky and sea were complimentary shades of brilliant blue. The sun and sand were golden, the air crisp, thick and salty. It was one of those perfect winter days on the Northern California coast and that’s when I first heard the voice inside my head:
“This day is a gift.”
“You’re going to be fine. You’ve survived. You’ll be happy again,” the voice said.
I was not alone. I had me.
As I listened to that calm, reassuring, wiser – perhaps divine – part of myself I suddenly understood that I had always been there and that I knew more about myself than I had ever considered. I had a lot to say but had never been able to hear it because my world had been a cacophony of noise and distractions. And, as I listened to my internal confidante I learned something else amazing:
I like me.
A few days later, still sad but at peace, I wandered into a little shop in Mendocino and spotted a poster waiting for me to carry it home. It was a beautifully photographed picture of a tiny, empty rowboat mirrored in a calm sea. The caption beneath it read:
There is perfection in solitude. It is the reflection of serenity.
I returned to the societal circus and made my way back in.
That was many years ago but now I can still hear my internal voice wherever I go, whenever I listen. He’s a good guy. He cares about me and would never give me bad advice.
Today, Carolann, and I are gloriously happy in the twenty-eighth year of our honeymoon. As Paul Harvey often said, we are “happily ever-aftering.”
But I still find time to get away by myself for a few days every now and then because I still need to be alone once in awhile, to shut out the noise, to settle down and listen to the brain in my heart.
I need days away from familiar people, places and things to talk at leisure with my internal best friend and to frolic together like dogs on a beach until we wear ourselves out with freedom and possibilities, and to promise each other we will do this again.
It’s a lifelong disease. There is no cure that I know of, but then I’ve never known anybody who wanted to be cured.
Though Western America is now a Happy Meal collection of fast food franchises and big box stores there is still a lot of heart to be found in the Heartland if you know where to look.
You look in small towns away from major cities and highways, in out of the way places where ordinary people live extraordinary lives.
You look by just wanting to find American treasures of passion and goodness boiled down to old fashioned common sense in very uncommon people. And by not being in a hurry to get where you’re going. So much the better if you’re not going anywhere in particular.
My friend, Chuck Woodbury, has lived the life of a motor home vagabond for nigh on to 40 years and has managed to earn a living and buy gas writing about his adventures, the oddball places he has discovered and the people he has met. Inevitably, all of Chuck’s stories are wonderful in their uniqueness and astonishing in their consistency.
Americans everywhere are all the same. When you peel off the layers of anxiety, necessity and pretense we all just want to enjoy our lives with our families, our friends, and most importantly, ourselves.
My father, Don Williams, surely wasn’t the first person who ever said this but he was the first who said it to me:
“Until you learn to know and love yourself, you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”
Like Dad, I found myself on the road.
Chuck Woodbury’s Roadside Journal can be found and enjoyed here: http://roadsidejournal.rvtravel.com/
Many years ago my world ended at the age of 30. It happened the day I moved out of my house, away from my wife and four-year-old son, and into a drab apartment. Divorce happens and when one is young it truly seems to be the end of all that matters.
Happily, we are profoundly ignorant in youth.
These days, nearly 30 years later, I travel with my darling Carolann and our precious girls, Cricket and Lady. Our 35-foot Class A motor home is perfect for us and so are we. But I still hit the road alone frequently because I must. For that I have a Lance camper and Ford F-350. And when I go, I travel in my own good company because after my first thirty years of living I learned something rather delightful.
I like me.
“In solitude, where we are least alone.” — Lord Byron
Shortly after the separation I was forced to go on vacation alone. Still buffeted by the emotional storm I set out for a week by myself in a too-big rented house along the Northern California coast which, of course, was where my now ex-wife and I had spent many happy times together. Great choice, huh?
For the first time in my life I was truly alone. At the age of 30 I spent my first night ever in absolute and despairing solitude. I cried myself to sleep and the sound of it was disturbing.
“With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves.” — Eric Hoffer
It’s odd, I remember thinking, to pass entire days without uttering a single word because there was nobody else to hear it. So, I tried talking aloud to myself. It was a comically depressing exercise and I soon gave it up. But then a funny thing happened. I continued to hear my thoughts.
This, too, was a first in my life and a stunning one.
It was a distant voice, quiet and almost shy. It was I, trying to get my own attention. And so, I began to listen.
I told myself to get out of my wallow and take a shower. Leave this place for awhile, I said. And so, we did.
“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.” — Einstein
I put on nice clothes: slacks, dress shirt, tie and jacket. I took myself to a nice restaurant and when I boldly asked for a table for one I added, “by the window, if possible.” I ordered wine, treated myself to an expensive meal and had a nice, long, quiet internal conversation while watching the sun slide behind the Pacific.
“People who aren’t alone are rather noisy, aren’t they?” I commented. “Yes, they certainly are!” I replied with a grin. And then I opened my notebook and began to write my impressions of the people around me. My inner self did the eavesdropping while I wrote descriptions. I gave them names. I invented their lives and I found I enjoyed them as well.
“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely alone can be.” — Ellen Burstyn
By the end of the evening we went back to the rented house near the thunderous surf and amazingly, it was no longer empty.