One question you don’t have to ask me is, “Are you OK by yourself?” The answer, 99.99% of the time, is “Yes.”
One thing I've learned about myself is that I have to be alone. Not all the time, but some of the time. If I go days or weeks without any solitude I get crabby and irritable and unhappy.
Sometimes I think I would enjoy the monastic life, spending my days reading and studying and writing and praying. The idea of unlimited time to develop thoughts and work through ideas is very attractive. I would hope to qualify for an order that wore jeans, T-shirts, and running shoes instead of scratchy brown hooded robes and sandals. And I'd hope to avoid the bald-headed part.
Unfortunately, real monks spend a lot of time working hard, and rising at 4:00 AM for prayer. And I doubt they’d allow Cyndi in the monastery; I would be miserable without her.
A few weeks ago I was enjoying breakfast and quiet time in Dave’s Café in downtown Cloudcroft, NM. The last words Cyndi said to me as she hustled out the hotel room door to go to yoga class was “the family is going down to the little café for breakfast if you want to join them.”
I didn’t want to join them, actually. Not that I don’t like my in-laws, I like them a lot. But this was a wedding weekend and I knew I’d be surrounded by people all day, so I felt very noble going down to the café to join the family instead of making coffee in my room and sitting alone on the porch in a rocking chair with my book.
When I got to the café, however, there was no family present. I was the only one. Perfect. I found a table toward the back and ordered breakfast and dug out my Bible and journal. It was going to be the best of both worlds – I could claim credit with Cyndi about how hard I tried to be sociable without actually associating with anyone.
And then I got a text from nephew Kevin, who was up the hill at the main hotel. He invited me to join him and everyone else for breakfast.
I wrote, “Oh. I’m at Dave’s Café. I thought that’s where the crowd was going.”
Kevin wrote, “Who is with you? We’re all up here at the hotel.”
Me, “As it turns out, only two friends: peace and quiet.”
Kevin, “We’ll fix that. We’re on our way.”
In a few minutes, about twenty minutes, actually, since it takes this family a while to get going, they started trickling in to the café. By then I’d had sufficient time alone to recharge and I was ready to socialize again.
I recently celebrated my 60th birthday with about 1,000 of my closest friends. Maybe it wasn’t actually 1,000 but it was enough to be overwhelming.
What made me happiest was how many people have come in close to our lives, and how much I need them. There was a time when I didn’t think I needed people around me, either because I thought I was self-sufficient enough to do everything by myself, or because I was afraid. Maybe both. I don’t feel that way now.
The older I get the more I like being around people. I don’t think it is a change in my personality so much as a desire to influence. It’s hard to change the world holed up in a hermit’s cave.
Thomas Merton wrote, "And since no man is an island, since we all depend on one another, I cannot work out God's will in my own life unless I also consciously help other men to work out His will in them."
There has to be a purpose in solitude or God won't bless it. He doesn't need more desert saints all puffed up with superior spiritual insight but with no one to serve. And in fact, I don't want to live alone. I cannot imagine learning anything new and different and not sharing it. What a waste that would be. It is the sharing that I really learn what I know, and it is the opportunity to share that makes me want to learn more. That is the source of my joy in teaching - the chance to give away what I've learned. It can't be done living alone in the desert.
How about you? How do you recharge – in solitude, or in community? How do you give away what you’ve learned?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32