“Do you remember in high school when everyone would walk in packs or do everything with either someone else or ten other people?”
It was exactly seven years ago and I was on a long distance call with a friend. We were comparing notes on our respective college lives since we were attending universities on opposite coasts. We were also reflecting on how different our lives have managed to become — only a mere several months fresh out of high school.
“Yeah, I know,” I retorted. “I don't think I ever had to eat lunch alone or do anything alone for that matter… it was fun though.”
“Yeah but It's different in college though,” she said in a wistful manner. “Most people are usually alone. And it seems like they actually enjoy it that way.”
Fast forward to the present, and that particular conversation still resonates in my head.
I was once that naive little girl who enshrouded herself with numerous friends in order to fill a void that she didn't quite understand. I was so afraid of being alone and what people thought of me that I made sure that I didn't run out of people to be with. And those instances where I was left with no choice but to be alone were the longest and most dreadful hours, even minutes, of my life.
See, I didn't understand back then that being alone didn't necessarily equate being lonely. Neither did I realize that it's entirely possible to be lonely amongst a crowd that one can easily get lost in. As a matter of fact, sometimes being surrounded by a thousand faces just reiterates loneliness and isolation. It took me years to figure out that being lonely and being alone are mutually exclusive — and that there is nothing wrong with being either.
As I got older, I have learned to embrace the idea of myself — including having myself as a companion and even as a friend. Unfortunately, it was through a series of bitter realizations and wake up calls that I have come to discover that sometimes, all you have is you to rely on. I have always been blessed with kind-hearted and genuine people surrounding me. It was only a matter of time that my trust acquire a certain shade of jadedness and weariness. However, the key was not to give up. Instead, it was about trusting yourself enough to know that you will indeed be okay.
Being alone is like getting stripped off all insecurities and pretentions that we often find ourselves hiding behind. It is like getting faced one-on-one with the naked truth and coming to terms with it. It is learning to be whole… with everything else serving as accoutrements designed to enhance and to complement. In a few words, it is oddly liberating.
Oftentimes, I am eager to spend time with myself though, don't get me wrong, I always appreciate the company of good friends and loved ones. However, it is in the simplest forms of pleasure do I derive much happiness from — such as sitting on a bench armed with my iPod and ice cream whilst people-watching and creating their stories in my head. Or sitting down for a meal in the middle of a busy food court after a long day of (window) shopping and strolling around. Or even a soulful train ride away from the familiar and the unceremonious. A few years ago, this would have been taboo in my books but now, it is a privilege and a luxury that I look forward to from time to time.
Finding joy in myself was like finding home and being comfortably nestled amid the walls — with the doors and windows wide open for the entry of friendship and love. However, solitude isn't merely a wall that we use to conceal ourselves from the harsh realities. Rather, it is the binding force that keeps us together in times of turbulence and discomfiture.
It is the lull that we need after a storm. It is survival, it is reward, and it is peace. And it is utmost satisfaction.
Paul Johannes Tillich (1854) once said, “Language has created the word LONELINESS to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word SOLITUDE to express the glory of being alone.”
Can anything be truer than that?