My mother and I frequently talk about how content we are when alone. According to her, ever since I’ve been little, I’ve always removed myself from busy social situations, and gone to do my own thing. I read during parties. I colored paper dolls rather than going on playdates. I wrapped myself in my own world in the attic, where I would set up fortresses. However, I always thought that I was a lone wolf not by choice, but because my mother was strict, and wouldn’t let me do anything.
My mother has almost entirely rejected the outside world, slowly drifting away from her friends and her family until all that is left is us, her children, and her myriad routines. Her world is defined crystal clear—in patches of sunlight where she sits in the afternoon, in the stacks of books she reads before she goes to sleep, in her long runs before dawn every morning—by a deep communion with her inner life.
As I get older, I’ve started to realize my preference for being alone isn’t a state enforced by someone else, or an affect to make myself seem deeper, more interesting. It’s just the way I am.
And the way I am is similar—in aspects of solitude at least—to my mother. Honestly, it scares the living shit out of me. But the realization also allows us to bond in a way we never have before, as adults. I call her more frequently. She comes down to visit me. When she reads something she thinks I might find interesting, she goes to the library, and photocopies it. She doesn’t use the Internet. She mails it, in an envelope, to me.
Yesterday, I received two pages of a book from her, about Richard E. Byrd, the US Admiral who was the first man to fly to the North Pole and the South Pole. He lived from 1888 until 1957. He was a renegade, a pioneer.
I don’t know what book the following quote comes from, because my mother didn’t mark it, but the header seems to suggest it’s from “The Uses of Solitude.” Here is the passage.
“The desire for solitude as a means of escape from the pressure of ordinary life and as a way of renewal is vividly illustrated by Admiral Byrd’s account of manning an advanced weather base in the Antarctic during the winter of 1934. He insisted on doing this alone. He admits that his desire for this experience was not primarily the wish to make meteorological observations, although these constituted the ostensible reason for his solitary vigil.
Aside from the meteorological and auroral work, I had no important purposes. There was nothing of that sort. Nothing whatever, except one man’s desire to know that kind of experience to the full, to be by himself for a while and to taste peace and quiet and solitude long enough to find out how good they really are.”
“Byrd was not escaping from personal unhappiness. He describes himself as having an extraordinarily happy private life. Nevertheless, the pressures of organizing a variety of expeditions during the previous fourteen years, combined with anxiety about raising money for them and the inevitable publicity which surrounded his achievements, induced what he called ‘a crowding confusion.’ He reached a point at which his life appeared to him aimless. He felt he had no time to read the books he wanted to read; no time to listen to the music he wanted to hear.
I wanted something more than just privacy in the geographical sense. I wanted to sink roots into some replenishing philosophy.”
“He also admits he wanted to test his powers of endurance in an existence more rigorous than anything he had yet experienced. His hopes for finding a new meaning in life were realized. In his diary for 14 April, he records:
Took my daily walk at 4 p.m. today in 89 degrees of frost…I paused to listen to the silence…The day was dying, the night being born—but with great peace. Here were imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. Harmony, that was it! That was what came out of silence - a gentle rhythm, the strain of a perfect chord, the music of the spheres, perhaps.
It was enough to catch that rhythm, momentarily to be myself a part of it. In that instance I could feel no doubt of man’s oneness with the universe. The conviction came that that rhythm was too orderly, too harmonious, too perfect to be a product of blind chance - that, therefore, there must be a purpose in the whole and that man was part of that whole and not an accidental off-shoot. It was a feeling that transcended reason; that went to the heart of man’s despair and found it groundless. The universe was a cosmos, not a chaos; man was as rightfully a part of that cosmos as were the day and night.”
Just something to think about today, the idea that loneliness isn’t a rejection of the outside world, but rather a way of coming to communion with it. Admiral Byrd, in his diary, put it so fucking beautifully.