It has been years since I spent a lot of time alone. For 19 years I have been raising children. For 22 years I have been living in a marriage where my husband came home from work and we had supper together. I have been surrounded by people. I chose a profession that places me intimately in the lives of other people. I know things about people that most others do not. Over the years I have actively sought out time to be alone. I need a certain amount of alone time to feel balanced. For many years it has been difficult to claim even a few short hours a week.
But now there is a huge shift in my life. My husband has taken on a second job, which he works three or four nights a week and a long portion of Saturday and Sunday. My daughter, at 19, has a life of her own, and can be out late at night. My son, at 15, has an active social life and is busy with activities. My parish is not particularly needy right now. No one has been sick, hospitalized, or dying for a while. The intense care taking I did for actively dying parishioners, which continued for three years at an unrelenting pace, has subsided. All is quiet.
Suddenly I find myself with vast amounts of space and time to myself. I relish this time. Mostly I really love it. But, sometimes, at night, the aloness gets to me. I eat dinner by myself. I work on some project or a sermon or I blog. But sometimes it gets to be a little too much.
Harry James Cargas says this about being alone: “Lonely is not a synonym for alone. The word lonely connotes isolation and dejection, a missed absence of companions when it is applied to persons. The root of alone, however, is in two words: all one. This means the opposite of isolation and dejection. The emphasis is not on the one but on the wholly one. It means complete by oneself. How many of us can actually feel that way? It is not easy to be fully in oneself, to respect oneself, and to self-develop to such a degree that a person looks forward to long periods of being alone. For some who enjoy this oneness, they realize that because of their relationship with Christ they are never lonely. They cultivate the chances to be alone so that they can actually savour the moments with God alone, the moments when their unity with the creator can be both enjoyed and developed. This implies quite a special human being. Too often we are frantic for companionship – for the team or the club or the class or the party or the movie or the TV. Immersion in such activities will free us from having to face the basic issues of existence. Such trivial busyness will keep us from intimate contact with ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is within each of us, yet how seriously do we try to make contact with it? Not only is there no need to ‘go out there’ in most instances, but rather it is spiritually harmful to look outside ourselves while ignoring what is by nature within us. The woman or man who can be aloe – can be together in the self – is the kind of person we can admire, can hold as a model. The quest for wholeness for individual unity is one of the great journeys a life can make, indeed should make. There is no easy route to being properly alone. But making the trip is learning to find what the meaning of life is.” (Encountering Myself, pg. 108)
I’m not sure I agree completely with this. I think life is a balance between alone time and community, whatever community is to each person – family, friends, church. We can no more live our lives fully alone than we can live our lives avoiding alone time and always merging into community, even if that community is the TV. I do like the idea that alone time is about being all one. That is a spiritual way of entering into time alone and wondering what will come of it. How will I come to know myself more fully in this time alone? How will I come to know God more fully in this time alone? And what can my alone time offer that I can then bring into community?
This morning I am grateful for the silence of my house. For the rising sun, the cats sleeping around me. The time to pray and reflect on God. Time to work on my sermon and get ready for tomorrow. Time to be all one.