Solitude

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  (Mark 1:35)

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)
Having just read Anna Quindlen’s memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, I was thrilled to turn the page (or tap my Kindle rather) and see Quindlen devoted an entire chapter to the topic of solitude.  Intrigued, I was anxious to read on . . .  In this portion of her writing, Quindlen describes her living arrangements with her husband during the summer months:  he spends the week in the city while she flies solo out in the country;  they reunite on the weekends.  She writes: 
There are two different responses to this kind of arrangement.  The first is pity, the notion that being alone is synonymous with loneliness and must be remedied with company at all costs.  The second is the minority reaction:   that solitude sounds wonderful.  (Loc 1034)


At this point of my life, I would be considered according to Quindlen in the minority although there was a season in my life where I would have been in the former camp.  While a grad student living in Chicago, I can remember attending the movie theater with a friend or love interest and see many young sailors (i.e. the nearby Great Lakes Training Center) sitting in what I thought of as isolated islands, people in theater seats minus an adjacent breathing being.  Literally, my heart wrenched for these young people (yes, I was young and dramatic and in love with the classics), and if I didn’t have that shy streak, I would have asked if he or she would like to have joined us in our row and inevitably passed the popcorn.  In my heart, I knew they had to have been lonely and wanting of companionship of any kind.  Now, I realize he or she was probably relishing the solitude after being packed in with others dressed identically morning, noon, and night.
As my thoughts about solitude matured along with the years in my life, I enjoyed living alone in my early 30s.  I could read when I wanted, watch television when I wanted, sleep when I wanted, and interact with others when I wanted.  As fate would have it, the man of my dreams followed this same theory.  In fact, he tells me he knew he was in love with me on our drive from Springfield, IL, to New Salem, IL.  It was my 31st birthday, and we were on our way to see the outdoor production of Quilters at this historic locale.  During the roughly forty-minute drive, we drove in silence: no radio, no cd, no conversation, no uncomfortable silence.  We simply enjoyed being together without having to fill the space between us with words.  The reality of the situation never dawned on me until he brought it to my attention years later, and I dug that he dug the contented hush.  You dig?
As a first-time mother, I found my solitude in sleep.  If a willing anyone volunteered to watch over my squirt, I headed for a pallet of any sort to lose myself in slumber, the ultimate solo activity.  As a second-time mother, I was more adventurous in terms of seeking solitude.  Reading through the MOBOT newsletter, I knew a day and night with strangers in a log cabin was calling my name, so I registered.  Now, I did ask friends to join me, but they either laughed or tried desperately to find care for their children to no avail.  During my 24-hour span, I learned to felt wool, realized fleece sweats were not a good choice when walking through woods riddled with burrs (yes, I’m a dork and never seem to dress appropriately), and read to my heart’s content on my lower bunk in the cabin all while listening to unfamiliar stories and unfamiliar snores.
As I am now middle-aged woman, it‘s a relief to be surrounded by people who understand my quirks when it comes to solitude.  While hospitalized last year for the second time for an infection, I decided to embrace the solitude a solo room on the oncology floor can bring.  My best friend and hub assured me they wouldn’t announce this hospitalization to others because I truly wanted to reflect on the here and now and read without interruption. This nearly week-long stay was loooooooooooong, but I attempted to glean the good from this opportunity which I knew I may not have again.

My friends who know me well, I believe, respect my love of solitude and join in right along with me.  This past weekend, a dear friend I hadn’t seen in over a year stayed at my house for the night.  We talked and laughed, but when the witching hour of 10:00 p.m rolled around, we knew our reading awaited us, and we lovingly said our good nights.  

Anna Quindlen’s Blessings Book Club

After a few starts and stops, I finally gave my full attention to Anna Quindlen’s Blessings and was determined to finish.  Although the beginning failed to hook me, once I reached the meat of the story, there was no turning back.  A story of an elderly woman, a convicted felon, and an aspiring young doctor whose lives all come together as a result of the unexpected appearance of a child.
The setting of the novel, Blessings, a rural family retreat, is not only idyllic in location, but also a domicile of familial dysfunction, both past and present.  Through careful unveiling, Quindlen highlights the tragedy associated with truths withheld over generations.  
What was refreshing was the life, revitalization, and perspective of the female protagonist, Lydia.  While philosophizing about life itself, she explains the tragedy of young death, the shock of middle-age death, and the inevitability of elderly death, how herstory, in essence, revolves around the loss of others.  In addition, kudos to Quindlen for allowing the younger male and female in the novel to have meaningful interaction without the presence of romance.
For the purposes of book club, a picnic lunch near a creek much like Lydia shared with Benny and Sunny as adolescents complete with bacon sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, and a big Ball jar of lemonade may be the perfect conversation starter.

Anna Quindlen