“Je ne suis jamais seul avec ma solitude,” with apologies to the French for my bad pronunciation.
I am never alone with my solitude.
In this global pandemic many of us find ourselves alone. Friends and family, neighbors and community members are finding ways to stay busy at home when they aren’t at work. Some of us are getting depressed. Some of us are homeschooling our children. Some of us are watching mind boggling amounts of TV programs. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are making lots of money on their programming. Others of us are in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities or hospitals without the comfort of family and friends.
My mother had hip surgery with the complication of a hairline fracture in her femur. The surgeon added a band around her femur to protect the bone from a further expanding fracture. This means my mom, 92 years old, is in a rehabilitation facility. She has been there for several weeks, working hard to get home. She remarked that she is lonely there. Thus, the topic for this week’s podcast, in the shadow of the memory of a song made famous by the legendary French chanteuse, Edith Piaf, written by, then reprized by the remarkable Georges Moustaki. That song is named, “Ma Solitude”. The line I started this podcast with is from that song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9-OzSzCDWo
The French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” Those words affected me intensely when I was 22 years old.
In late January 1976 I was in Paris, alone. It was the end of my semester abroad studying in Geneva, Switzerland. One of my newfound friends was to meet me there in a few days. Meanwhile, my French was so horrid that Parisians insisted I speak English when I talked to them. Loneliness was creeping in. It hadn’t been so long ago that I realized I was Gay. I was ineligible for diplomatic work. I would wind up a dirty old man, alone and lonely. These were the thoughts running around in my head. Well, if I’m going to be alone, I had better learn to like my own company then. So, I made up my mind to find ways to entertain myself and be the best company I could be to myself.
That was a long time ago now. I can admit that my bouts of loneliness or boredom have been few and far between, as the saying goes. Of course, I have been in a relationship of one kind or another almost all of that time. So, while I am kind of old, I’m not a dirty old man or alone or lonely. But even in a relationship you can feel lonely. If that’s the case, though, you’re in the wrong relationship.
I’d like to say that my spiritual connection with God keeps me in good company. But that feels disingenuous, even if there’s some truth to that. Truth is as an introvert I gain my energy from alone time. Solitude is a precious commodity for me, purchased, sometimes, at the cost of laughter and comradery. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s words best capture my feelings, “My solitude doesn’t depend on the presence or absence of people; on the contrary, I hate he who steals my solitude without, in exchange, offering me true company.”
So, what may be easier for me may be harder for another. To have solitude without loneliness or angst the following conditions must be present:
You have to like yourself, have an active imagination, have a sense of humor, a clear conscience, and have fond memories and look forward to the future. Finally, you have to be satisfied with yourself. If you are holding grudges or are feeling abused and disconnected with yourself and others, in grief or fear, solitude will be a nightmare come to life. This is why letting go of those who have wronged you is important, why calling forth the good times you had with a missing loved one is vital, and why facing your fears is worthy of being called courage.
My foster son had multiple insecurities. He was ADHD, that is he had Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactive Disorder. His childhood had a multitude of abuses. And he showed mild symptoms of sociopathy. Solitude was a living nightmare which he avoided at any cost. He couldn’t lay in bed awaiting sleep because of the voices that haunted him about his inadequacies, traumas, and fears. He would run through the night in order to exhaust himself so that when he lay down, he would fall asleep immediately. When he was 27 years old, he committed suicide. Even in a relationship and with two children, he couldn’t endure his solitude.
Many people are suffering their alone time during these months of stay safe at home. Alone and safe is not an inclusive statement for many of us. The terms can be mutually exclusive. The past can catch up with us. Life skills are required. Parents can pass on these tools to their offspring though. This skill regarding solitude can be a matter of life and death. I have no psychology credentials so I can’t address the issues for those who suffer from alone time. I can only do what I’m doing here and encourage others to live a life of few regrets, harbor no grudges, and seek a peace within that comforts you.
For many of us, this life work is augmented by our relationship with our higher power or God or consciousness behind the universe, or multiverse if you are working on theoretical physics.
If we have a working relationship with God, then God is a constant presence we can feel, and we are never alone. Of course this idea can be offensive and invasive to some, or it can be comforting and ever enlightening. With or without this God connection, the conditions I mentioned for a happy solitude apply.
No one but me is responsible for my happiness. And I take my happiness seriously. For me, it’s an internal process. Neither money, nor friends, nor food, nor clothes can make me happy if I’m not right with myself.
Be the person you want to be. Be the change you want to happen. Have the life you want to live.