This morning, I watched the Today Show (thank goodness for routines these days!), and Hoda talked with a man named Jay Shetty. As he began speaking, I ran for my notebook and scribbled the words “loneliness vs solitude.”
Wow. That’s it, isn’t it? I do think, within reason and with some exceptions, how we frame this whole collective situation is going to make all the difference.
As many of you know, I took quite a journey, filled with eye surgeries, this past year. In fact, my fourth and hopefully final procedure was scheduled for yesterday and then postponed. Over the course of the past year, I have had long periods of time to practice being alone. I spent two weeks this year, sitting or lying facedown for twenty two out of twenty four hours. My friends and family were awesome during this time, rarely leaving me physically alone but mentally, I was on my own. Following each of my procedures, I also went for extended periods of time with such limited vision that I was unable to drive. Last spring, this period lasted for three weeks and most recently, over the winter, I didn’t drive for two months. Again, my community really rallied for me but even with them, I spent long, long periods on my own.
Somehow, during these times, I stayed pretty calm. Now don’t get me wrong- I had plenty of grown up temper tantrums, but overall, I was pretty much ok. Over and over, people asked me how I was doing it and over and over, I said, “Well, I don’t really have a choice.’
This morning, when I looked up the definitions of the words loneliness and solitude here is what I found.
Loneliness is defined as sadness because one has no friends or company. Related words; depression and emptiness. While on the other hand solitude is defined as the state or situation of being alone. Related words; beautiful, art. Interestingly, the associated images for these two words are the same. The images reveal gorgeous pictures of people walking in nature or people, drawing or standing before breathtaking views. The images are the same while the emotions placed over the images are completely different.
Looking back on my time this past year, I guess I did, in fact, have a choice. I could have layered negative emotions on my time and felt pretty lonely. Somehow though, without even realizing it, I think I focused more on my solitude.
At the time, I worried that I had not used my forced down time productively. Because my vision was pretty funky, I didn’t read or write nearly as much as I would have liked. I did a fair amount of house organizing but both the basement and the garage are still pretty messy. Due to physical restrictions I fell further and further out of shape. I didn’t learn how to cook a bunch of new meals. This list of things I didn’t do could go on and on. But now, thinking about the words loneliness and solitude, I think I have figured out what, in fact, I did do over the past year. I learned how to do nothing and not feel sad about it.
As we move through these next few weeks (and yes, I am still refusing to say months), I know there will be times that loneliness will be the only way to describe how we are all feeling. Of course, this feeling will come to people who are living alone but even those of us who are lucky enough to be surrounded by our loved ones will feel alone and depressed in the coming weeks. But what if we also found a way to feel some solitude? What if we found some time where we work to attach either no emotion or some positive emotion to this time of isolation?
I’m certainly not promising to be perfect at this but I am going to try. Who is with me?