I can really be a strange, confusing creature! This is true in many ways (and I’m sure my friends and family could come up with a long list) but one way which I have been pondering recently is my seemingly incongruous desires for both sociability and solitude.
My entire life I have been an outwardly social person. I love entertaining, forming groups and making friends. I am also a very loyal friend that prizes relationships above almost anything else. Most of the dear moments of my life have come because of sacrifices and support of friends and family. For instance, any success I achieved on my mission was from a combination of my own efforts, God’s will and the hard work of the people I served with and for.
To get through graduate school I relied on the work of my fellow teammates and teachers. To thrive in college took the support of many roommates, friends, mentors and the love of my parents.
I can’t think of another human being that values social interaction and the people around her more than me. One of the benefits of swimming open water is it has opened my eyes to a whole new group of friends and fellow-swimmers. The comradery has motivated me so much. My trainers have also been absolutely crucial in my fitness success over the last 2 years. Without their prodding and encouragement I would not be where I am today.
So, why would such a person chose, yes chose, to live alone? How could such a social creature enjoy solitude? Not only do I live alone but I also spend most of my work hours alone. When I think back on my mission one of the hardest parts was feeling alone. Why was it so difficult then and yet not so now?
Maybe part of it is that my life experiences have taught me that I am never alone. My Lord is with me wherever I go, and I have an unending trove of people who care deeply about me.
That is all very key but another part is I am now at 30 comfortable with the ‘solitude of self’. I even crave it.
The term ‘solitude of self’ comes from a talk by Elizabeth Cady Stanton who was, along with Susan B. Anthony, a founder of the woman’s movement. In the talk, she defends a woman’s right to vote because all individuals whether man or woman have ‘a responsibility towards their own individual happiness and development’:
“To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to watch the winds and waves, and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman; nature, having endowed them equally, leaves them to their own skill and judgment in the hour of danger, and, if not equal to the occasion, alike they perish.”
What it comes down to, Stanton says, is that each human being is responsible for the choices he or she makes- and therefore, each person should have the right to make those choices. No person is a pawn.
“The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce storms of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, and to conquer. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual sovereignty. Rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, man and woman; it is ever the same, each soul must depend wholly on itself.”
While I might add ‘depend wholly on itself and God’ , I still love Stanton’s idea of ‘individual sovereignty’. One of the things that disgusted me with the recent Casey Anthony trial is how Casey refused to take any responsibility for her daughter being gone for 31 days before her parents called the police. Her attorneys then brought out every reason why she might have made poor choices. In the end, whether guilty or innocent she failed to uphold her ‘individual sovereignty’ and she will have to live with that.
To some the idea of the ‘solitude of self’ may sound depressing or sad but not to me. I have been cursed with the tendency to compare myself to others my entire life and it is only when I am truly at home with myself that I am happy.
In fact, I find if I am not given enough ‘me time’ I get depressed! And yet if I go too long without human affection and contact I am miserable also. I suppose it is like CS Lewis said “humans are in a sense amphibious beings—both physical and spiritual. We live our lives straddling two worlds..”
A good example of my dual nature is when I dive into water and feel cocooned in white noise. It is like everything is gone and I am free with just my thoughts. Even when people are cheering around me I hear nothing but the sound of water. I love that feeling. On the other hand, I can think of nothing I enjoy more than gathering with other swimmers and bonding over our shared experience.
Another example is I love when all I can hear in my apartment is the sound of the cars going by, and yet I also come alive when my table is spread with delicious food, friends are chatting and I am surrounded by those I love.
In one sense I am divided but maybe this new happiness is actually the most complete I can be? CS Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters (a book about 2 devils giving advice) that the ‘lost cause’ for all devils is when a human has faced his or her loneliness and yet still obeys:
“Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Maybe that’s what I am finally learning to do- to accept God’s will for my life at the moment I am living it, whether it be a lonely or social time? I am certainly not perfect in this acceptance, but I have come a long way since those lonely, yet social high school days or those humbling days on my knees in Indiana.
I hope this entry makes sense. It is something which has been on my mind; and I always find that pondering via writing is one of the best ways to sort out my thoughts.
Do you feel this contradiction in your life between the need for solitude and friendship?
One last quote by Stanton that I love
“as an individual, she must rely on herself. No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone“