I’ve been less than well with various morphing and fleeting illnesses since the last week of January. Bursts of energy launched me to a Y workout or a social engagement then landed me in confinement for additional days. Early on, thoughts of solitude and loneliness (or solitude versus loneliness) were on my mind. I went in search of May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude and found upon opening it this quote. “Sometimes wonderful presents arrive out of nowhere. Yesterday, an unknown sent me, out of the blue, a book … I opened to this passage: ‘I began to see that loneliness is neither good nor bad, but a point of intense and timeless awareness of the Self, a beginning which initiates totally new sensitivities and awarenesses, and which results in bringing a person deeply in touch with his own existence and in touch with others in a fundamental sense.’” Sarton’s passage came to me as just such a gift out of the blue.
With a new and serious virus requiring exceptional caution, I find I’m learning a new routine; balancing quiet and still hours with outside contact and entertainment on my devices. As I’ve been participating in exchanges on social media and observing articles on aging and articles on the effects of digital media on loneliness, along with some commentary on how the aging population is isolating itself, I’ve been examining my own perspective. I’ve thought much about how vital to my work as a writer, artist and reader are solitude and space to reflect. The requirement, over these past several weeks, that I stay home, rest and recover has me reading with a fervor I haven’t known in many years (and I consider myself an avid reader).
I’ve been all over the country, many places in the world, the future and the past, in the many pages I’ve read. I’ve taken up single stitch, aimless knitting, the only requirement a color and texture of yarn that please me. I keep a sketch pad and a few drawing tools near my comfortable chair and in view of the cathedral through the window. I listen to guided meditations, lift weights with Jane Fonda, manage a few sun salutations, bathe and put on fresh pajamas. I let the outside world in through my screens, radio and phone and find enrichment, humor, information and connection.
In this time of uncertainty, as I learn the art of social distancing and as my home becomes my world, I give increased thought to my home as sanctuary. I surround myself with enriching and compelling art, comfortable and soothing furnishings and colors that enliven as well as calm. I sit, solitary, embracing a favorite mug of tea, taking in the view of the branch outside the window. I imagine it would be a fun exercise to listen for the bird song and feel what it’s like to sing along.
Oh yes, it is a rich and fulfilling life to wake early with a purpose, go out into the world to a place of work, use the vigor of brains and body in participation with others. It is a sort of joy to be busy, to return home exhausted, depleted and relish the few hours of rest that prepare us to meet tomorrow as we’ve met today. The certainty of where we are going, what we will be doing, how our hours will be filled is a satisfaction. It’s difficult to recalibrate, adjust the routine and to accept the unpredictability of a solitary life behind closed doors.
I can easily imagine this social distancin
g as a sort of a prison sentence, a miserable confinement and inconvenience. I am challenging myself to find in it an opportunity to expand my imagination. Perhaps, for some, quiet contemplation and solitary activities are something there’s never been the time to consider or cultivate. Perhaps, worship and quiet has taken place in church or in nature, making home less a sanctuary than a pitstop on the busy way to the real life of everyday living. As with so many things, it strikes me that it is the attitude that we bring to this present uncertainty that, to some extent, dictates the level of acceptance, dismay or satisfaction we experience in this time.
Karen Casey’s January 26 passage in The Promise of a New Day seems just right: “To live is to open ourselves to possibility, to rule out nothing. There is no way we can spare ourselves, or those we love, the pains of living, because they are inseparable from the joys…. All we can do — and it is quite a lot — is to live the best way we can, achieving a balance amid the forces that pull us: if we can live so that we respond to all of them, rule out none of them and yet enslave ourselves to none, we will have the best the world can give.”