the fuckery of solitude


After my mother died, my wise friend Janet wrote, ‘Crocus will bloom again.’ She was right. Nature continues in spite of human crises. Or loss.

The fuckery of solitude is how it forces introspection. I’m generally comforted by habit, but I’m now confronting patterns I don’t want to see: Repetitions in my professional life that eat at me. Patterns in relationships that have vexed me for decades. Compromise I make again and again (Again? Really?). And solitude turns these reflections into recursive thinking, which always wears upon my self-esteem. Too often these days, my mind’s going around and round. Busyness mostly allows me to dodge this shit. Sociability, too.

The paradox is a conundrum. I’m comforted by cycles bigger than me. I’m resisting the patterns within.

On Sunday I took a walk — on the beach from High Head to Head of the Meadow and back on the bike path. For several miles I employed a variation on Thich Nhat Hanh’s walking meditation, attempting to ground myself within non-human ecology. With my right foot fall, I say ‘I am here.’ And with the left, ‘I have arrived.’

It’s a meditation I’ve used in other times of crisis. As with all walking meditation, if it doesn’t work you simply walk some more. Its beauty lies in its ability to bring me to presence, shedding spiraling thought and focusing on the moment of reality I’m experiencing (which, in one’s particularity, is the only moment in existence truly accessible). And you don’t have to employ it in remote nature. More than once, it’s provided an alternative to pacing the length of my house.

For 24-hours, it really helped.

In the Washington Post, Ron Charles writes about Henry Thoreau’s Walden as both an experiment in social distancing and a diary of grief.  Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond to confront writer’s block, working on an account of a canoe trip he took with his late brother – who died in Henry’s arms of tetanus at the age of 27. He was also grieving the death of Emerson’s 5-year old son, Waldo, with whom he was close. Walden was not written to examine grief. It was a byproduct of grieving.

It’s not uncommon in times of stress to look backward, reconsidering memories and thinking about people to whom you were close earlier in life. I’ve been recalling family friends, born in the 19th century, who in memory seem present throughout my growing up, but who died when I was still quite young. Lovers from my 20s refocus unexpectedly. Unresolved questions between me and four people whose deaths I’ve recently witnessed have gained greater weight. Grief compounds over time. Every new loss activates those feelings, integrated or in suspension, we encountered when we’ve lost before.

Suspended grief is my biggest threat. It’s habituated, an easier strategy for surviving pain in the short term, but devastating over time. It’s the grief for my birthmother, who I lost two days after birth, and who, in turn, I was told was unimportant. It’s the grief for lovers who’ve died, but who went unacknowledged because of heterocentrism. It’s the grief that others don’t acknowledge and goes without ritual, without witness. It’s grief that distorts and inhibits life. It’s grief held in solitude.

We don’t yet know who and what we’ve lost, or will lose. In itself, that’s terrifying. As much as I’m resisting it, I need to sit with those discomforts. I need to look at them squarely. And we need to talk about it. That’s the work.

For today, I’ll take solace in the bearberry. It’s blooming.


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