I woke up a few minutes before five this morning, alone. The light from the kitchen, under the bedroom door, suggested my wife was already up. I got up and wobbled across the house to her study, where I found her engrossed in a book. Like so many other times, my appearance seemed to be the trigger that sent her back to bed. “I think I’ll try to go back to sleep now.” And off she went. So, here I am, fifteen minutes after toasting and greedily devouring an English muffin, alone with my thoughts in an almost empty house. I’m used to being alone in an empty house. I sometimes crave being alone in an empty house. Despite the loneliness, being alone is a gift that gives me time to listen to myself think. Thought can be generative or chaotic. Most of the time, my thought is chaotic. I scramble from one incomplete idea to the next, struggling to make sense out of ideas that come from nowhere and lead down dead-end paths. But the times when generative thoughts fill my head can be therapeutic. I may be using “generative” incorrectly. Perhaps I mean restorative. Or maybe another word would better fit the state of mind in which I find myself. I’m not in the mood to be corrected by the Thesaurus, so I’ll accept that I may be the illiterate fool for a while.
Now that I’ve given myself a little more time to think about it, this time is not restorative nor generative nor anything remotely like that. No, it’s reflective. Instead of edging along the surface of ideas like a stone skipping on calm water, my thoughts in this state plumb the depths. I explore why I am who I am. And, as is so often the case, I wonder who I am, really, beneath the veneer that time and experience has layered upon the person I am at my core. That eternal question, that sense that I’m not sure who resides within me, has been with me for as long as I can remember. It’s not something that bobs to the surface of my conscious thought on rare occasion; it’s always there, always asking me to think of how the “real me” would react or behave in the circumstances in which I find myself.
I daydream from time to time about being truly alone. Not just in the wee hours of the night or early morning, but always. As it is, I’m usually alone. I spend time alone in my study while my wife spends time alone in hers. I interact with people at church or in groups to which I belong but those interactions are superficial at best. My connections to any of them are like that stone skipping across the water. Touch and go. Touch and go. And then the stone is gone. Disappeared. Those brief intersections when the two touch change neither the stone nor the water. I wonder whether my daydreams about being alone are just wishes, wishes that my existence did not matter to anyone. It would be easier to just pick up and leave the space I occupy in such a case. As things stand, I occupy space in a few other lives to the extent that I can’t just disappear without my disappearance doing damage. But perhaps the damage would be readily repaired, so not catastrophic. I’m a moderate risk taker, but risking such damage in the hope it won’t last is not a risk I’m willing to take. And so I accept the risk of stagnation. That’s probably just as bad, but it’s slower and not so noticeable until one compares then to now, only to discover that now is a grotesquely disfigured then, missing important pieces and layered with barnacles and moss.
Every day is like yesterday, only worse, because it’s a repetition of something that could have been better but, instead, it’s older and there’s more evidence of decay. That perspective is not generative or restorative. It’s downright dismal and depressing. The right way to look at every day is that it’s new and untested and has the potential of being the best day yet. “Right” may not be the proper word here, either. “Optimistic” might fit better here. Trying to capture optimism after a bout with depressive self-assessment is an endeavor bound to challenge even the most serious player. But it beats the hell out of torturous reflection. Instead of seeing circumstances as spiraling toward inevitable bleakness, attempting to climb out of the cave into the light offers promise.
It’s almost six o’clock and I’m still nursing the remains of a cold cup of coffee. I think I’ll try again to turn the day into a stepping stone into a bright future instead of a stairway to a dungeon flooded with sewage and rabid alligators. I’m on the cusp of a mood during which I might write something worth reading, but not quite there. Perhaps when I’m older.
Bev, I understand and, to the extent possible, I empathize. I do value alone time, but not to the exclusion of social interaction in its entirety.
Trust me — being alone all the time isn’t exactly all that it’s cracked up to be. However, yes, there is something very nice about having so few ties that you can do just about anything you like, or go anywhere you wish. Also, after you’ve been alone long enough, the idea of hanging out with anyone else isn’t too appealing. There’s only one person I’d like to hang out with and that’s impossible.