The dust is beginning to settle here at Farandwee, and I’m starting to see the return of sanity on the horizon. With my husband working and the stepdaughters in school, peace reigns around the home office. Even the dogs’ obstreperousness has calmed down since they began a regimen of brisk daily walks. As the days take shape around a midday core of peaceful silence, I find my inner landscape returning to its former tranquility.
It’s been touch and go for a while, I can’t lie. Sharing my cocoon with an entire new family has proved to be an enormous shock, like being the only person in a room who doesn’t speak the language . Some days I feel like I simply cannot make myself understood, an embarrassment only exceeded by realizing that I am also failing categorically to understand anyone else. I must seem to be handling this transition with at least passable grace, since no one has appeared to take me away in a special jacket to a padded room. But inside? I haven’t felt this insecure and discombobulated since I was a teenager.
I have a whole new respect for the power of silence. No, not the silence. The emptiness. The absence of other human beings. The simple act of being alone in a room is enormously powerful, liberating the spirit and freeing the mind. It’s not that people don’t contribute to that too. But while other people may be the best teachers, the actual learning happens in their absence, when their words and actions can be held to the light and mulled over gently until the truth emerges.
I would tire of being alone eventually, I suppose. I’d miss the marvelous man who shares my life, and the bevy of children who remind us every day how blessed we are. I’d miss my colleagues, dear and trusted friends that they are. I’d miss my little village community where all the faces are familiar and the smiles bright with recognition. But for a few hours every day, being alone is sheer bliss. The crowded chaos of the last few weeks have reminded me that peace is more important and more real than happiness, and a necessary prelude to the ecstasy of joy. For some, that peace may come from being amongst people, energized by their energy and warmed by their warmth. Not for me. Although there are a handful of people in my life who don’t disturb my solitude–my mother, my children, my husband—there are none who can improve upon it.
The flip side of solitude, of course, is that not even the most confirmed introvert can subsist upon a steady diet of nothing but. It can be lonely and frightening in the emptiness, even with music, if there is no alternative. The comfort of being untroubled by the presence of my fellow man has to yield to the even-deeper primal desire to belong to a community. Even though I require solitude to generate and maintain my inner peace, I also require the delights and comforts of being close to the people I love. This tension is what keeps us fully alive, I sometimes think, balanced on a tightrope between our private and public selves, torn between the clean, cold clarity of solitude and the warm, noisy confusion of the tribe.
Being flung practically overnight from one end of the spectrum to the other may be the most amazing transition I’ve experienced. 14 weeks ago I lived alone. A week later my children joined me, and 3 weeks after that my husband moved in. Less than 6 weeks later his daughters joined us. I have to remember to forgive myself for the anxiety and the panic that still wash over me in waves at times, although the waves are fewer and less frequent. It feels like a crazy tilting rollercoaster because, for someone as attached to her solitude as I am, it is a crazy tilting rollercoaster. The only sustainable way to survive and even thrive on this ride is to make sure there is enough solitude in the mix to keep my internal engines humming smoothly. Only if I seize those hours and grapple them to my bosom will I be able to engage fully, peacefully, authentically with this new, still-foreign yet dearly beloved tribe.
This journey is full of surprises, none perhaps more unexpected than my realizing how intimately my ability to love is entwined with my need to be left alone. The wellspring of love inside of me is fed by quiet, by being alone in an empty space, by the absolute freedom of solitary consciousness. When that spring is full, then I overflow with love and the presence of others is a joy. When that spring starts running dry, it isn’t the comfort of others that I seek; it’s the closed door, the restorative rhythm of thoughts and feelings flowing at their own pace, the buoyant, nurturing emptiness.
©Mary Braden 2013