On embracing solitude
The year is 2016. I’m a teacher’s aide sitting in a year seven science class. The grey-haired teacher with kind eyes leans over the bench eyeing the girls.
“There’s no new water on earth. The water your body is made of is billions of years old, probably the same water that nourished the dinosaurs!”
I gape like the rest of the girls. He tells us that our bodies are made of the same carbon and oxygen which was made in stars.
What a hopelessly romantic thought.
In a few days, I was heading to Stradbroke Island off the coast of Brisbane for a solo holiday.
Well, I was meant to be meeting up with a guy I’d met online to hike around the whole island. Then he came to Sydney with more baggage than what was in his hands and I cancelled the hike but kept the flights.
I was sick of online dating anyway. This would be perfect: white sand, books, walking, endless stretches of time.
Suddenly, I notice that the Airbnb guy I’m staying with has a demonic clown picture as his Facebook profile (it would be irresponsible not to stalk Airbnb hosts in this day and age).
I arrive and meet him. A lot less Stephen King-creation and more Byron Bay drifter, into Buddhas, crystals and supplementing his rent with Airbnb. I probably wouldn’t spend much time there anyway.
I was determined to enjoy this holiday. I go walking, I sketch, I write, and by 6pm that first night with beer in hand overlooking the crashing ocean, I feel it. Like a sudden sharp cut when chopping carrots: loneliness.
I text a friend: ‘my inner extrovert is dying’.
‘You have an inner extrovert too!?’ she jokes. We have a texting marathon. It temporarily curbs the pang.
I notice a choice has arisen: I can continue to whinge and moan about my loneliness, or I can embrace it. Wasn’t that the point of this exercise?
Isn’t there this thing called solitude which is like loneliness but more spiritual and stuff!?
I wake up the next morning and head to the cliff walk which weaves around a corner of the island.
I meditate on the ocean and it’s conversation with the rocks bearing deep grooves, redolent with salt. I think about the billion year old water I’m carrying around.
How can you feel lonely when you’re literally at one with the world? Not in a hippy, mumbo-jumbo kind of way but literally. Scientifically!
We are all made of stars. I turn this thought over in my mind like a snow globe.
I’m not alone and will never be alone. My chemical composition will return into the earth and become someone else’s existence.
I look at the ocean and imagine huge whales moving calmly underneath.
I want space to look at my life as it is, without the lens of humanly-ascribed qualities. The measuring stick used in Sydney is a stringent one.
I wonder how many times a day I worry about my appearance, or whether I’m going to die alone, or whether stubbornly holding onto a family-inherited faith matters if I’m not doing anything with it.
How about ruminating on, as Rilke puts it, ‘the miraculous improbability of life?’
How cool to be a part of life teeming on earth, down to the very chemical level?
Being alone gives you the space to accept the reality of existence: that although we are all little ecosystems which feed into one other, at the end of the day we’re leaving the world alone.
It’s the opportunity to nourish each other and the world itself which makes life so vibrant and worth living well.
Today, standing on the precipice of motherhood, I’m reflecting on these thoughts.
In 2016, I was utterly convinced I would need to consider a life of being alone.
Not for any particular reason other than I was 29 years old and the musical chairs game of Love had left me without a seat (or so I thought).
Now I fear that solitude will be a distant memory and the only possible alternative to loneliness is constant company riddled (ironically) with loneliness, as many mothers have reported.
But I am a not a great predictor of future outcomes and my anxieties are almost always amplified in the present.
Returning to these thoughts brings me solace.
The very nature of human existence is that we are sole beings, no matter how many close relationships we form, we still leave the world alone.
It’s these temporal human labels that can be exhausting if my worth is measured by them: wife, mother, daughter.
Having a child grow up and walk away into an independent adult life will be an amazing journey but I will always need to return to solitude to find my value, not in these labels, but in something much greater and more eternal; the waves, the ancient rocks, the whales.
For now, I’ll be filled with wonderment at contributing to the ‘miraculous improbability of life’ and embrace being nourishment for the new human I created because this too shall be pass away.