Henry David Thoreau is arguably the world’s most infamous recluse. You know the guy. He spent long hours alone by a pond in Connecticut contemplating the universe and the warring habits of ants.
Knowing this, it is not a surprise that he was the one to observe, “The man who goes each day to the village to hear the latest news has not heard from himself in a long time.”
Good point, and in a thoroughly Thoreau way, profound. He implies that solitude is something rare and often avoided. He would not be alone in this declaration. Many, especially those of other nationalities, have commented on the American need to constantly be surrounded by distractions. I would argue the epidemic is worldwide.
In the old days, a distraction would have been other people, perhaps those gossiping down at the local watering hole. Today, a never ending barrage of technology offers an endless escape from the world. Cell phones, texting, MySpace, Facebook, AIM, television, radio iPods, etc, etc. Really, I could go on for ever.
The question then, is why do we choose to immerse, even drown ourselves, in a sea of microchips?
The answer: silence is painful. Silence forces us to listen. It does not allow for a retreat behind a shield of superficiality. We are left alone to our minds, our thoughts and our emotions in an utterly unadulterated fashion. Silence makes us vulnerable, and in a world that exalts the powerful, most are not comfortable with being vulnerable.
Often I feel as though a town council meeting is in session in my head. Different characters, with different personalities struggle for dominance in various situations tugging at a very small version of me in the direction of their choosing. The trouble is, all of the characters are pieces of me, representative of my hopes, logic, and desires. They are each powerful personalities and in my most vulnerable, raw moments I wonder, “Who’s in charge in there?”
I hear from myself plenty, thank you very much. In fact, every second my mind is buzzing as I shuffle through life.
If solitude is how often we hear from ourselves, then solitude is my norm. I bet it’s yours too. The escape, then, is not hiding in a corner, but seeking the company we long for in community.
Historians have proven that Thoreau walk the two miles from Walden Pond to Concord every day and often welcomed visitors to his sanctuary. Even Thoreau was lonely, which is why he eventually moved back to town.
Over 100 years after this, a duo of free thinkers presented their own ideas on solitude.
“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared disturb the sound of silence.
‘Fools’, said I, ‘you do not know,
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you.’”
Simon and Garfunkel were onto something.
Solitude is not the same as loneliness. It is a boat floating in a sea of other possible companions. No man is an island and that’s why Thoreau wrote “Walden” down. He transcended solitude, existing alone, but was not lonely. He reached out to the world through his words.
And that’s why I write my words to you.
I am floating the boat of my life within speaking distance of yours.
And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.There is a long road that runs along the middle of my part of town. I drive along this stretch nearly everyday when I am home. For three years it took me to school, last summer it took me to work, and it has taken me to church every Sunday since I was ten. If you look closely there are small brown signs that run along the side declaring it as a historic highway. In December, I was riding home from church gazing longingly at the warm, sunny skies above this road and the trees next to it - trees that never seems to let go of their warm green lace even in the dead of winter. California. I dreaded leaving early the next morning, back to the slush and brown barren landscape of Utah. The smell of the warm wind wafted in through my open window and I was taken back to the countless summer days spent traveling back and forth along this road. Tilting my head back against the head rest, I spoke these thoughts aloud to no one in particular. After a moment, my dad half laughed, "Sarah, you love to live in the past."I have been called many things, and could definitely add one or two adjectives of my own to the list. Nostalgic would be one of them. Today never seems to live up to yesterday. Most of the time, it is a curse that keeps me from simply enjoying whatever moment of life I am living. But then there are the days when I need nothing more than to be somewhere else with no way of getting there. J.M. Barrie said that God gave us memories so that we could have roses in the Decembers of our lives. I think he and Wordsworth would have gotten along.Poetry may seem like an awfully convoluted way to express a thought, but it is sentiments like those in I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, that reach beyond intellectual perplexity and touch our hearts. Lines like these whisper to our souls, "You understand this one. You've been here before."I gazed - and gazed - but little thoughtwhat wealth the show to me had brought:For oft, when on my couch I lieIn vacant or in pensive mood,They flash upon that inward eyeWhich is the bliss of solitude;And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.Oscar Wilde shared a thought I often use as a checkpoint for how I'm doing. "To live," he said, "is the rarest thing in the world. Most people only exist." Each day passes us by full of moments that seem so insignificant, and yet will be the ones we treasure and long for later on. These moments are golden because they are a window into a more magical time than it seems we are currently in. Nostalgia indeed distracts from enjoying such moments when they stand before us, and although we might not appreciate what we have until it's gone, in a blissful moment of solitude, we are still able to dance.
Posted by Sarah McKenzie at 2/04/2010