For a time now I’ve used this photo of me, my daughter Sarah, her boyfriend Josh, and my friends Jan and Meridian for my computer desktop image. This reminder of the variety of relationships in my life has greeted me each time I open the computer, often caused me to smile or reflect on the ways each person in the picture came into my life. So various and precious have been the ones who entered when I allowed the door to my heart to open that I’ve often wished to gather them all together in one place at one time. Those in the photo stand in for all the others not present in that moment.
There is however a way that I’ve needed to see people from a distance, as in a photograph, or via telephone or email. Even those I love as the beating of my heart, I need separation from. This has always been a truth of my character – not the entire truth of who I am, but a significant part of the whole entity. I’ve only uncovered this aspect of me within the past few years, and only very recently begun to find acceptance – that solitude is necessary for me, is as important to who I am as is community.
I used to think this a failing, a character flaw. Given that our culture determines our value in part by how “popular” or “connected” we are, it’s not surprising that I would view my need for alone time as problematic, as something wrong with me. Viewing myself through the lens of this culture – as we all do, really without knowing we do – I’ve suffered the fallacy that if I’m alone, I must be unlovable in some way.
Yet in truth I’ve often felt more alone when IN relationship than when I am by myself. A great deal of my energy and years of my life have gone into clinging to spouses and lovers I didn’t really want, much less need, to be with – all in service to the fallacy. Only now do I begin understanding that I too often selected those spouses and lovers from an unconscious need to be pushed away by them. I’ve needed the choice of solitude for some time, to learn to be in relationship with myself.
Learning this does not negate the very human need that arises as well to be cared for and cared about. I struggle with this need at times. But I am also learning through this struggle to more fully appreciate the people who do care for and about me – and that the first and most important of those people must be me.
Today I changed the picture on my desktop to the one below. It seems a small thing to do, but I hope this picture too will serve to remind me that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely, that solitude too can be a form of love, that companionship with oneself is as needful as company. Perhaps even more so.