I am comfortable with aloneness but not so much with loneliness.
I have often expressed a desire to live as a monk isolated somewhere in a distant monastery – not because I’m holy or desire a life of holiness, but moreso because that lifestyle seems easy to me. Not talking much, keeping to myself, journaling, meditating… to me, those activities are equivalent to breathing. If and when I allow myself, I can be a very good loner or a homebody.
Much of these comforts are innate and much of them are also a result of experiencing a little more loneliness than one can handle in childhood. So interestingly, a quality that is now intrinsic to who I am now is a byproduct of a certain lack that was experienced in my past. (I think this can be said of many other characteristics that we have as human beings.) It is a defense mechanism of sorts to deal with the pain of being lonely. I’ve learned to be alone and be comfortable, and even value it.
In the last few years, I’ve had some opportunities to make new friends and belong to a community. Though I was content by myself, I welcomed new relationships and the chance to share life. When I spent time with people, I found out I wasn’t alone in my thoughts, feelings and experiences. Sometimes, I found out I was indeed alone in them. More often than not, however, I found myself gravitating towards this community of people, and this was surprising to me and uncharacteristic of me. What is it about community that drew me in?
I guess I can go into a long discussion about the benefits of community and how we, as individuals, can be transformed by it. But I’m sure I’ve written about that before. I guess what I’m realizing more as I step delicately into this 4th decade of life is that I am desperate for authentic community, whether it be with one person or a group of people.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Sure, it’s a high school book that we were required to read in our teens. But in fiction, I’ve never related more to a character than Holden Caulfield (Jo March of Little Women comes in a close second). He talks at length about how adults are big phonies and how he can’t stand them. That is an all too familiar feeling. I’ve grown impatient recently… with superficiality. I can smell it a mile away and even recognize the stench on my self every now and then. I’m all for courtesy and cordiality, but I’ve become utterly desperate for relationships that are forged by honest, authentic human beings. Ones where being loving and compassionate doesn’t necessarily mean being nice and friendly and unoffensive. Ones where truth is upheld even when it’s painful sometimes. Where we aren’t out to give advice or fix each other but allow the other person to journey through life as we hold their hands. Where we can be weak with each other.
Where I can be weak.
I refused to be weak with anyone for a very long time. And when that day came and I allowed myself to be weak with someone who also allowed me to be, I felt liberated in ways that I cannot describe. The only way that comes even close is that I felt the shackles come off. So now when I meet someone who seems to be comfortable in their loneliness… and when I meet someone who seems to be comfortable in their community… when I see someone who has locked away the deep parts of themselves… when I see a confident person who speaks with conviction… when I see the social butterfly who has countless friends… when I see that person standing in the corner alone… I want to ask that person, who are you weak with?
I guess I want to ask you that question.