Loneliness as knowledge

I find long-distance travel to be an extremely interesting phenomenon. When we read tales of the past, we of often shocked and yet enamored with just how long a journey used to take. When Magellan’s expedition first traversed the globe, it took an almost indescribable amount of time, from 1519 to 1522 – three years — and it cost Magellan his life and the lives of most of his crew.  

Only 18 of the original 270 crew members survived (1) Today in virtually the “blink of an eye” you are deposited to any of the four corners of the world. (2) Travel has accelerated to such a point that it seems almost commonplace to most of us, I am sure.  

A voyage, however, is still special. You move from your conventional day-to-day life to join in a frenetic activity associated with throngs of like-minded people – your fellow travelers. If your tour includes international travel, you have the added joy of the officious bureaucrat or the blank-eyed border guard.  

Any enforcement official must experience something akin to pure glee when they discover an infraction – a misplaced razor, a bottle over 100 ml, and the arbitrary list goes on and on, but as we are told, “It is for your own safety.” These rather sad officials, of course, mostly create their own rules and interpret them in their respective way: great fun! But, it is what it is. Any reinforcement of your inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (3) only delays you enough to miss your connecting flight. I speak from experience over a tube of toothpaste – toothpaste, no less. 

As the serenity prayer tells us: 

God, give me the Grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
The Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


The prayer was written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. (4) 

The end of one’s journey is also quite unique. There is an abrupt halt to a forever sense of movement, disorder, people, and images. It is stunningly brusque and immediate, in most instances. It always strikes me hard, though I have traveled many, many times. In this, I am sure that I am not unique.  

It produces reflections and analysis. It reinforces the belief that we are alone. We are born alone and we die alone. This is not the emotional trauma associated with solipsism, (5) but the freedom correlated to the knowledge that all power lies within, and, to many, their relationship with God.  

Olivia Laing’s (b.1977) book, The Lonely City (ISBN: 978 1250 1180 35) touches on the association between creativity and loneliness by identifying a host of seminal artists who experienced such pain. She only documents what all creative people know. Life is difficult if you do not make peace with your inner self – and the earlier the better. So, the next time to board that ship, train, plane, or automobile remember that this sojourn will take you down a road that distances you even more from your associates and loved ones.  

The contemporary philosopher and polyglot, Alain de Botton (b. 1969), leaves us with a thought: It seems an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially molded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others. Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then, too, we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity. 

A closing thought: We are told that imagination is at a premium level in our society (6) and must be nurtured at every developmental stage of a child’s young life — the Dr. Zeus (7) approach to child-rearing. I agree that children are treasures, but they certainly must be assisted in their growth. There is obviously a fine line between encouraging discipline and the brutalization of the spirit.  

The other evening, I sat in a local park enjoying my one decadence – ice cream. There were two rather attractive children, a boy, and a girl, running up and down the esplanade. Their game, whatever it was, encouraged the one to run “full-flight” in one direction, and the other in the opposite. They would then pivot and sprint the other way. In the middle, they touched each other and laughed outrageously — euphorically you could say.  

A rather “downtrodden” grandmother grabbed the boy and slapped him to curtail his exuberance. The mother, I assume, proceeded to seize a lock of the girl’s hair. In a moment, their activity was over, followed by the attendant wails and cries of the enslaved. Where was the husband in all of this? He was glued to the cell phone: totally disinterested in the outcome — good or bad. I cannot judge these poor souls. I only observe and pray that, as a parent, I have never been guilty of this sort of tragic action. (Parts of this essay were first published in 2019)  

To sum up: This week, we spoke about using loneliness as a tool to empower our personal growth.  

To be noted: What did the grape say when he was pinched? Nothing at all, he just gave a little wine. 

Just for fun:  

For reflection:  

This week on your reflective walk, please ponder your own approach to loneliness and isolation. 

Every day look for something magical and beautiful 

Don’t be a wage slave — critical thinking is great! 


Quote: Moments of quiet introspection can only enhance our value to ourselves and to others. 


1) https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/ferdinand-magellan 

2) https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/the+four+corners+of+the+earth 

3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life,_Liberty_and_the_pursuit_of_Happiness 

4) https://www.britannica.com/biography/Reinhold-Niebuhr 

5) https://www.britannica.com/topic/solipsism 

6) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QQ_h5lHOBk&t=13s 

7) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/theodor-geisel 

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