I once knew a man who hated to be alone. It panicked him to the point where he sought to fill all of his waking hours with people. On the streets, at the bus stop, in restaurants, if he was unaccompanied he would soon find someone to talk to. I don’t judge him for his needs but as an introvert — someone who who requires being alone to re-energize — his constant seeking of the company of others made me feel claustrophobic. But clearly my friend wasn’t alone. In fact, the Experience Project has a group called “I Hate to Be Alone.” Weirdly, despite having 22 members no one has posted in their forum yet. Go figure. The Facebook page “I Hate Being Alone” has over 12,000 fans so you won’t be lonely there!
Anyway, I digress. I’ve never had a problem with being alone. It is there that I find solace. I revitalize. I learn. I contextualize. I am in touch with the spirit that moves me and I hear it speak to me clearly. Sometimes I wrote fiction or poetry; sometimes I just read or lie back and watch the leaves against the sky. When I don’t get enough alone time, I find myself getting grumpy, feeling frazzled. It is then that I know how important it is to go to the beach, head to the library or just close my door.
I recently found a little gem of a video on YouTube called How to Be Alone by filmaker Andrea Dorfman and poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis. The video was shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia and was produced by Bravo!FACT. The poem, set to music and animated with a sweet series of illustrations that float over the video, starts out … “If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it…”
I have to say, however, after extolling the virtues of solitude, that I’ve never HAD to be alone much in my life and the few I times I did (like when I changed schools in grade 12 and had no friends for three months) seemed cruel. There is a difference between being alone and lonely. Lonely is not revitalizing — it is draining and disorienting.
From the balcony of my old office building, I used to look out at the apartment next door and see a little old lady eating breakfast, lunch and dinner by herself, sometimes nodding off alone at her table. Maybe she liked being alone that much, but I doubt it. A healthy society is one in which people of all ages have choice to take part in our communities or to remove ourselves temporarily and re-collect ourselves. In Western society, so many old folks are not alone by choice but because the world has simply forgotten them in its mad rush.
I think the truest thing I have ever read about being alone was written by French writer Colette. “There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.”
I will take the days of heady wine — and hope I always have friends and loved ones to welcome me back to the world when alone gets too lonely.