For the first time in my life, I am living alone. Thirty-eight years ago, when I moved to Toronto to go to college, I shared a home with five other students. I lived alone for a brief time after finishing college, but quickly became involved with a man and moved in with him after only nine months of solo living. No regrets- I was, after all, twenty-three. Young love and hormones were influencing my choices. Eventually, we made two beautiful babies -my sons- together.
There have been times when I’ve spent a lot of time alone, particularly since I often worked out of my home, but there were always others (my sons who were at their father’s for a week or my husband who was at work all day and at evening events) who would be returning. At times I spent time alone in the wilderness- often weeks- but I knew I would be going home to others when my solo time was complete.
It’s different to live alone knowing no one is coming back to a shared abode later in the day or week or month. Once in a while- usually in the evening- I feel a little. . . antsy, experiencing a twinge of something that is not completely comfortable. When I sit with it and ask, “What is this feeling?” I occasionally think, “Oh, this is loneliness.” Although rare, when it does arise, I just notice it and am careful not to start telling myself a story about it. Like: “I will always be alone,” or “If I was loveable I wouldn’t be alone,” or "Loneliness is unbearable" or any of the other infinite number of stories the mind can conjur. In fact loneliness, like other feelings, comes and goes and is quite bearable if we can refrain from adding painful (and imaginary) stories to temporary discomfort. Sitting still I realize that what I call loneliness is most often a vague desire to have someone around to distract me from some deeper discomfort. Like the knowledge that I am resisting working on the new book or some anxiety or ambivalence I would rather ignore.
The truth is that most of the time, when I pay attention I become aware that I am truly enjoying being alone. Some of this enjoyment is pretty mundane: not having to pick up or clean up after anyone else; being able to eat when I want to or follow the thread of whatever I am doing (reading, writing, sleeping) as long as the impulse is there simply because there is no one else’s schedule to consider. But some of it is appreciation for the privilege of having the means and the time to simply be fully with myself.
Last week, I walked home at twilight after visiting a friend. I stopped at a market and bought yogurt and blueberries and a bunch of pale yellow roses for my apartment. And as I walked past the spectacular gardens of the homes in my neighbourhood I felt a deep sense of contentment. I walked slowly, savouring the scent of flowers on the warm night air, anticipating bringing the beauty of fresh roses into the two small rooms that are my home. I looked forward to reading in bed and listening to the sounds of the city slowly subside.
I am blessed to have friends and my two sons in the city where I live. So, when I want company there are those with whom I can connect. And the city itself is offered to me. When I have spent enough time alone at the computer, I can easily walk to a bookstore or the market or the community centre and be around others living their lives, feeling how my little tributary is part of a much bigger river, how we are all interconnected as we live our own lives.And then, I can go home, alone. The gift of living alone, of having a space that is simply my home, is finding that I do not have to choose between being with myself or being with others. Of course, I never had to choose between these two- but when I live with others I often unconsciously turn too much of my face toward the other and away from my own life. Some of this happened with the inevitable requirements of raising children. But some of my inability to be with another and not abandon myself came from an unconscious strategy developed early in life- trying to earn my place to be by taking care of others’ needs. While I now know this to be unnecessary for belonging it is in living alone that I learn to truly enjoy being fully with myself. And I am grateful for the blessings and the challenges this solitude offers.