I am sitting in the Ballroom, three stories above the street, windows open and letting in a whole lot of sounds of voices, things being moved around and assembled. Life.
Tomorrow is the first day of our island’s Art Festival, and by the time we all go to sleep tonight, the town’s main street will be fully transformed with canopies, booths, and all the joyful chaos that such a big event brings with it.
As I hear the bustling downstairs, I am all alone in this beautiful 1,100 square foot room. I am alone, and in some ways, I feel alone. Almost lonely, but not quite. The feeling is familiar, both in its sense of inclusion and of alienation. In its sense of pleasure and slight angst.
As I look down a window, I see all the activity - and I am both part of it, and completely removed from it.
I know this feeling.
Six years old, in Spain. My family spent most summers on a small Spanish island, and our apartment was on the 11th floor of a resort-y type place. Downstairs, there were two swimming pools, both usually full of kids, floaty toys and lots of splashing and yelling in many languages. Parents all around the pools, eating, napping, talking. The noise carried clearly up the 11 stories to our balcony. While my ears were soaked in the noise, I rarely went into the pool, rarely talked with anyone, and usually spent my time alone playing on the beach or in the waves. Or in the apartment up above, reading or drawing. This was the 60s, and while my parents were around, I could not tell you exactly where they were.
I was not unhappy. I was ... calm. There was a distinct sense of separation between myself and all the people downstairs, and even though there was a tinge of longing, this separation felt like a given, as though there was nothing to be done or even considered, about it. I was me, they were them. They were doing their life together and I was doing mine alone.
I have experienced this a lot of times in my life.
As I got older, I gave this thing a name. A name that makes it seem a little more intentional, a little less ... something. A name that says: I need to be alone - among all of you.
I call it “Supported Solitude.”
Writing for hours on my sun porch, as teenagers walk past me coming home from school, laughing and pushing each other playfully? Supported Solitude.
Walking around a foreign city, aware of my thoughts and my freedom, as lovers hold each other tight, and neighbors chat away? Supported Solitude.
Straightening out the Ballroom tonight, as artists are loudly creating tomorrow’s playground downstairs? Supported Solitude.
A good friend of mine who has decades of professional experience figuring out what makes people do what they do, says that when people learn at an early age to seek a lot of solitude, it’s often because they have experienced contact with people to be painful. According to him, it’s a reaction, not a natural way of being.
I hear that.
I also remember some of the richest years of my life: one was when living with four other girls in a small room, giggling ourselves to sleep year after year, in boarding school. Very little personal space, very little unshared, and a deep sense of happiness. Then, there were the kids-growing years. During that time, I would often fall asleep with all three of them in my bed, one of them usually partially wrapped on top of me. Again, it was bliss.
Gracefully named, “Supported Solitude” may very well be a reaction to pain. It may be more fear-based than love-based. It may be a protection from the too-muchness of being around people. I don’t know.
As I get older, I tend to be more balanced in the flavors of my days. I am able to have more truly connected people-time, while still needing to recharge on my own. That’s how we introverts do it. I am also able to see when too much alone is too much, and when it’s time to get out into the world, when I start to become a bit feral.
And I understand what could have made me this way.
In the end, it may all be a long healing process. Whether we seek solitude or whether we run away from it at all cost, we may simply be trying to find our own sweet spot, the place where we can be our best, for ourselves and for others.
Today, I invite you to be nice to you, as you do your life the way you need to do it. I invite you to consider that somewhere, you make perfect sense - whether you know what that sense is or not.
And then, to consider that the rest of us are most likely doing the same.
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