Washing dishes is a chore from which I seldom shy. There’s something about attacking those microcosms in among the stacks of dirty dishes that I find satisfying. Few chores, can one do and get instant gratification as gazing on a sink of sparkling glass and silverware. I most often do them alone as the respite is quieting and welcome.
I have a friend who is on a new path on her life journey. She says she used to be alone, but not lonely. Now she feels she is both as she processes the end of her marriage.
I have been alone. I have never been lonely.
Alone is alone. It is uncomfortable, but not burdensome. It can be a relief, but not gratifyingly peaceful. You can be with someone when you are alone, but it is not a shared experience. That is what my friend experienced while married. There was another person in her life, but she was alone.
Loneliness is unsatisfying. It invokes fear. In our rush to be done with it, it makes us do things we might otherwise not, It hurts. It is burdensome and bothersome much like a hang nail. We will go to great lengths to avoid it and by doing so, allow it to envelope us.
And then there’s solitude. You can experience this when walking in the woods, reading a book, or sitting by a brook. You can even experience it while in a crowd. It can be shared. It is a feeling of peace and gratitude. You are comfortable with who you are and where you are. It is an understanding.
When I am doing dishes there is a mix of being alone and experiencing solitude. I am distantly aware of life going on around me. My mind often wanders, interrupted by occasional glances around to see if I’ve corralled any errant dirty dishes. I may think of shopping, the news, or what chore I need to do next. At times there are moments of inner reflection.
Alone. Loneliness. Solitude. Each word conjures visions of singularity. And yet only one can ever be only single. Many people in this world experience loneliness. They have no family. They feel abandoned by friends. Perhaps a relationship has ended and they are in a situation they think only they can understand. It’s intensity and duration varies. It is a feeling that can lead to loneliness.
Loneliness has the feeling of permanence, but it can be turned around. That is the encouragement I have tried to give my friend.
Loneliness is a step away from the solitude my friend seeks which will be born out of time spent alone with her thoughts. A time of retrospection. She must be patient and allow the process to work, but she can turn loneliness to solitude by changing her viewpoint. What is it about the situation that she can turn into something positive? What are her options? Has she closed her mind to possibilities, or has she accepted her situation as a done deal. What would make the feeling one of solitude? What would she like of the outcomes?
Experiencing the holiday season that is Christmas and approaching the end of another year, can intensify every emotion. It can especially intensify the feeling of being alone and the feeling of loneliness. As we set about our preparations for celebrating, we must be mindful of those who are not in a place where they can have the same experience. Not that we should dwell on it, but that we should have our hearts and minds open and be at the ready to offer what help is required.