“Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich
Our kids are grown, and my wife was out of town for the past week. You do the math. The house sure was empty. I read a lot and for some diagnosable reason made the bed each morning and carried on with life’s responsibilities, but since television isn’t my thing and I rarely listen to music, other than the weird times when I carried on a conversation with myself, it sure was quiet around the house. As they say, too quiet.
I think everyone would agree that loneliness is a terrible thing, but as Tillich noted, the English language makes room for an optimistic approach to time alone and calls it solitude.
Wendell Berry described solitude as the place where “we lose loneliness,” which is just a delightful thought. He claims it a space where your “inner voices become audible” (tell me about it) and you sense “the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.” It is a time and place where you reconnect with the inner you.
I don’t always like the inner me, but he deserves notice from time to time, and given the noisiness of this party called life it takes a little work to find the space. Or your kids grow up and your wife takes a business trip.
When my dad died in 1994, I worried that my mom would be lost every day. Turned out I was wrong. When I spoke with her about it, she said, “I’ll be sad from time to time, but I’m not going to let myself be sad all the time.” And for the eighteen years she had left on this planet, she was right.
Berry concluded that one emerges from solitude more useful to others: “The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”¹
In solitude, I reflected on solitude and concluded that it deserves incorporation into the rhythm of life. But I’m sure happy to have my wife home again.
¹ Wendell Berry, “What Are People For?: Essays” 11 (Counterpoint, 1990).