When I was between marriages some twenty-five years ago I was forced to learn a very hard lesson most people manage to avoid all their lives. I learned to be truly alone for long periods of time 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, soon got married 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 old furniture and nothing else that would ever allow me to use the word “our” again. “Our” life was over. Mine, alone, was beginning and I was terrified.
Forced to take a vacation alone, I rented a house near a beach north of Mendocino and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.
There is nothing more alone than a large, empty, unfamiliar house in which the only thing that is yours is you.
People who have never been married for a long time and then have it suddenly collapse can’t know the vacancy of self-mourning, and try as I do I can’t find exactly the right words to explain it. I’m not talking about self-pity but rather, true self-mourning because half of the whole person you were is suddenly nonexistent. I think it must feel exactly like being only half dead. I missed everything about my life, my wife and son, our home, our street, our yards, our dog, our routines, but even more than all of that I was in a desperate race to scar my soul, to repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away. And so, I cried. I gave in to my grief completely, nonstop except for brief periods of respite provided by fatigue. Then 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 groveling in my misery.
And that’s the key, I think. Give in and grieve. Be mindful of your physical well-being and force yourself to take care. Don’t drink to excess and stumble through a strange world in which you don’t know the players. Eat when you should. Sleep as much as you can. I found writing to be cathartic. But nothing heals like pure grief, for that is its purpose.
During a lull in my despondency, a few days after beginning my self-imposed confinement, I stepped outside my rented home just to take a peek at the world. It was dazzlingly bright blue, the sky and sea; golden, the sun and sand. One of those perfect winter days on the Northern California coast that looks and feels like a personal gift from God, all just for you. And that’s when I first heard the voice inside my head which described that day to me then exactly as I just wrote it:
“This day is a gift from God, just for you.”
It was a stunning revelation. I was not alone in the least! And as I listened to that calm, reassuring, wiser part of myself I realized I had always been there and that I had a lot to say! I had just never been able to hear it because my world had been a cacophony of voices and distractions fighting for attention. And as I listened to my internal confidante I learned something else amazing:
I like me.
A few days later I was wandering through a little shop in Mendocino and I 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.
That was many years ago and I soon returned to the noisy societal circus. But now I can hear my little internal voice wherever I go, whenever I listen. He’s a good guy. He cares about me and would never give me bad advice. In fact, he often gives me wise words for others which I dutifully pass along, humble messenger that I am.
Carolann and I are in the twentieth year of our honeymoon. As Paul Harvey would say, we are “happily ever-aftering.” But I still find time to get away by myself for a few days every now and then because we all need to be alone. I don’t mean just to take a nap or read a book. I mean truly alone for a significant period of time. That’s what it takes to shut out the noise, to settle down and listen. And then you need days to talk at leisure with your internal best friend, to make yourself wiser, to laugh at shared secrets; to frolic like dogs on a beach until you wear yourselves out with freedom and promise each other you will do this again!
There really is perfection in solitude. You should try it sometime.
© 2007 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved