Deciding to be Solitary or Lonely

Hello from my study,

Today I followed through on a decision pondered for a while, but it is a decision that requires me to be more intentional, more thoughtful, and more disciplined about what I do. After multiple urgings as well as the life-style change COVID has brought, and some thoughts about my own long-term plans, which are certainly not cemented in some non-changeable manner, I sold my BWM 328xi back to the dealer from where I purchased it, and made the decision to function by “ten-toed express” for some time forward. How long, you ask? I am not sure. It will depend on inoculations, sabbatical plans, and other possibilities. However, I realized I was spending a great deal of money on insurance in spite of the very few miles I was putting on my car. Ironically, due to some weird Pennsylvania regulations, it is necessary for me to maintain some car insurance, even without a car. Otherwise, if I am without vehicle insurance for over a certain period of time, I would be put on high risk insurance. What a racket that is!! There were a couple of other considerations too. If I decide to get another vehicle or lease on because of some longer term plans, I will probably stay with the same brand as it was probably the most amazing car I have every owned. I enjoyed it a great deal and while it was a 300 series, it actually got great gas mileage. It is sort of an interesting feeling of freedom and the lack of all rolled into one. This change will also force to me to focus on some things I need to be working on and running an errand to just procrastinate yet again will be much tougher.

This morning, I spoke with another of my cousins on my mother’s side of the family, which created yet another Colorado connection. If I do some real counting, there must be a dozen people minimum who have moved to that state from all across the country. I could probably do a two-week road trip to Colorado and remain busy the entire time. The past weeks have compelled me to understand, or become reacquainted with the fact that someone can always have a profound influence. Often when you least expect it. It is an incredible thing to speak to someone who knew you in your childhood, and then simultaneously try to fill in the blanks for three decades. It was the wonderful work of connecting dots once again. Families are such dynamic, metamorphic, engaging, or even numinous entities. As I face a three decade lapse I must reasonably question how did that happen? There was no falling out, problem, or specific reason we lost touch. What I seem to comprehend was a lack of some mechanism in my immediate family that engaged us with the extended family once the previous generation moved beyond this life. I am not sure why that was, but I must believe it had something to do with my own immediate family in Riverside and some of the difficulties in that family. Perhaps it was because of some of the struggles our family perhaps, innately understood, but no one would ever mention. Perhaps it was because as I moved away from that struggle and particularly from my mother. As a consequence that side of the family was lost and I must take responsibility for my own decision to move away from all of it. What I am coming to terms with is how much I have lost in all of this. Again, perhaps, what I know now is merely that I am fortunate enough in finding it possible to reconnect. What these past three weeks have laid out for me so clearly, so profoundly, is that those decisions, either conscious or subconscious are exactly that: decisions made . . . and like any decision, there are reverberations. And yet, this was no conscious decision in terms of any termination or result. This outcome was a collateral one, and one mostly unrealized, one considered from time-to-time, but as with many such repercussions, how to manage it seemed difficult. So now I am working, as noted in the last blog to connect the dots and the decades.

What I discern more completely at this point might be something quite different. Being family, either by birth or adoption is not something over which we have a lot of choice. In fact, there are a plethora of memes, cards, or magnets that state just such a thing, but what does it imply? It means too often a sort of deterministic idea of “it just is” and deal with it. What I am realizing is family is much more . . . as noted above it is a complicated thing, but, at least for me, it was, and more importantly is, something I need if I am to understand who I am, from where I came, and why I might be the person I am. Certainly there is a lot that can be read into those things, but I am considering it on a more simple basis. As I have chatted with my cousins, they are kind enough to tell me things about what they remember and for me that validates much about my childhood. It is even more treasured and respected because they are speaking their own truths of that time in our lives. That is a precious thing to me particularly when I am the only person in my immediate family still here. I am not necessarily lamenting this, but rather being the solitary one has weighed on me in different ways. I realize I have a sort of tug-o-war existence with being on my own; I am simultaneously comfortable with the sort of control it gives me over my existence and confounded by what it has left me as someone alone at 65. There is a sort of never actually having all we want, which, of course, is incredibly selfish. I have noted that I feel more like my father’s elder brother-in-law at times than I could have ever imagined.

As we begin a Christmas week, memories of childhood naturally come to the fore and I appreciate how the family dinner and the gathering of people are so essential to our feeling of how we matter. For me, and as the theme of being an individual has permeated much of this blog throughout the years, I think it is important to perceive the difference between being solitary and being lonely. Too often we do not imagine or comprehend the important difference in them. One can be solitary, while being content, happy, or even fulfilled, but this is not about things as much as it is about people. It is our interaction with people that creates a sense of community; keeping us from being lonely. I think much of my earlier life I chose to be lonely, though seldom recognized it. Lonely was not something new to me, it was how I often felt growing up. I remember being in Sioux City’s Children’s Community Theatre and each Christmas we would perform Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Eventually I was Ebenezer Scrooge. I remember Scrooge’s lines when approached about the person collecting for the poor. Having been asked if he wished to remain anonymous in his giving he retorted,

wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, sir, that is my answer. I
don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make lazy people
merry. I help support the establishments I have mentioned…they cost
enough…and those who are poorly off must go there.”

A Christmas Carol

What is interesting to me is I have some of the wishing to be left alone part of Scrooge in me, and yet on the other hand, I love the Christmas holidays and giving to other people. Somehow I got some of both. I think the Christmas spirit, as noted many times, comes from my Grandmother Louise. I believe in the magic of this season, and for me, it requires really little effort to make other people’s lives a bit nicer. Simple politeness, a mannerly help with the door, making allowances while driving, or even thinking of the other’s needs before your own is not difficult. I think it merely takes some time to be willing to consider the other before one’s self. And simply, it is putting into practice what we learned as children: share, be polite, use your manners, and be kind. There is nothing too arduous about it, but it seems that such traits are in short supply in our current national attitudes. What I have begun to grasp as I have reflected this month and reached out to my cousins is they had those traits in their immediate household. Don and Virginia were gracious and welcoming, and in spite of the elapsed time, certainly the conversations with various members of the family seem to demonstrate they have carried on that practice with great proficiency. It is really a gift to be included in their conversations and thoughts again. What I am witnessing in my own life is how my choice to be solitary at times created more loneliness than I expected. There is a thread in my life that has that solitary trek of a person searching with no real sense of purpose, but searching nonetheless. I am not generally aware of it, but I remember many times being on my own. Just today, a Jagiellonian University student I was blessed to meet in the Main Square Costa Coffee shop in Kraków, and someone I speak quite regularly on FB messenger, chatted by messenger yet again. Today she reached out asking if I was alone for Christmas and worrying about me. It was incredibly sweet of her, but again it reminded me of my time in A Christmas Carol. When Scrooge is required to see his past he is reminded of his choice to not go home for Christmas and he ends up alone.

Brother, dear brother! (She kisses Child Scrooge.) Dear, dear Fan, Scrooge
answers. She responds, I’ve come to bring you home, home for good and
ever. Come with me, come now. (She takes his hand and they start to run
off, but the spirit stops them and signals for the light on them to fade. They
look at the spirit, aware of their role in the spirit’s “education” of Scrooge.)

A Christmas Carol

If you are aware of the story, in two different cases, Scrooge ends up alone and sad. The melancholy that is such a part of Scrooge was not because of his being solitary it was because he chose to be alone. Choosing loneliness is one of those things that does something very different that choosing solitude. Solitude is about peacefulness, ironically one of the themes of the Advent Season. Solitude is about reflection and assessment. One of the things I have often considered doing is returning to the Upper Peninsula and doing a spiritual retreat with the Byzantine monks at the Jam Pot. I think it would be a really good thing for me to do. What this month of reconnecting, recollecting, and reminiscing has accomplished is it has pulled me out of a shell that I created, albeit unknowingly. With the exception of a sandbox buddy, there are few people who remember me when I was that smaller-than-normal, spectacled, butched-hair cut, large-eared person who kept a smile on his face regardless what was happening in his life. The picture above is my first graduation from kindergarten. What registers so clearly now is that there was no solitude in my home growing up because there was fear as a prevailing theme too often. I was more often lonely because I was afraid. As I have gone through my life, either married or single, what appeared to be and the reality of the world I saw were very different. Even in my marriages I found it difficult to be unguarded. This is an incredibly difficult admission to make. Likewise, it caused problems because it was not something I ascertained, and certainly did not comprehend at those times. As I reach out now, I do it knowingly, and yet desirous of something that moves me toward a more healthy style of solitude.

In someways it seems my cousins in their kindness and beauty, their honesty and graciousness are like the three spirits who visited Scrooge that Christmas Eve night into the wee morning hours of Christmas Day. While I have never been Scrooge-like in my Christmas spirit, there are certainly times I have found myself wishing to be left alone during other times of the year. As I often say in my Bible as Literature class, God often works in spite of us. And then in my sort of caustic manner I add . . . and sometimes to spite us. I am not sure that there is anything spiteful in the events this past month, but God has again knocked on a door and it is up to us to open it. This season is often a time when people stress because of family obligations. This season of Advent has been a season of joy and peace, of hope and love like none I have experienced in my life. I wish for all of you a blessed week of this Nativity. To Kim, Paula, Julie, Mary, and Martha, and Randy, by extension, but now also to Jeff: Tusen takk fra hjertet for at du tok imot meg tilbake etter alle disse årene, og jeg ønsker hver og en av dere en velsignet jul. I leave this as a call out to our Scandinavian heritage.

I wish each of you a blessed holiday as we finish this unprecedented year of realizing we are never solitary; we need each other.

Blessings,

Michael

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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