A Solitude Among Us

It’s seems like these days, there’s always something to look back at and remember and something to look forward to with excitement at the same time.  Let’s start with the looking forward, shall we?

I’m flying to England today.  It’s my first trip there since 2004.  It’s a short trip but should serve as a much-needed break from the cultural exhaustion (to put it mildly) that I’ve been feeling these past few months.  I’m looking forward to sitting down with the Oxford guys and discussing the glasses project, its ins-and-outs, and figuring out where the future of this project is going.  I’m also excited to see where it all happens, where the glasses are assembled, etc., and if there’s time, a trip to the “Eagle and Child” is on my list of things to check off, if not also check-out some cool parts of Oxford.  When I get back from Oxford, I should be hitting the ground running with glasses distributions happening all over the place until Ramadan.

Even though Ramadan will give me a “break” of sorts, much of which will be spent writing and getting my “post-Peace Corps plan” hammered out (MFA in Creative Writing, perhaps), Jonathan and I are beginning to plan out the so-called “diabetes project,” which has now taken on a few new forms.  I’ll save that for later, but it’s looking like it could be a pretty big, three-day event.

I think I like the looking forward.  I think I need it, because although the looking back is equally as important, it’s also a lot harder these days, what with the people who have moved on in my life.  I caught myself during the Fes Regional meetings the past few days, for example, telling stories about Caity and Avery and their service and their impact on my life.  When Jonathan bought a leather bag in the medina, I looked it over carefully and insisted that everyone look at it, the way Avery might have insisted we look at the things he had just bought, like it was show-and-tell.  It’s funny how, when someone makes a deep impact on our lives, we live our lives a little like them when they aren’t around.  It’s like we take them on and emulate them just a little.  It’s our way of imagining that they’re there with us, to be and do what they were and did.  I think that’s one reason why, no matter how brief someone graces our lives, we can never discount the role they have in it.  We become them just a little, taking a little part of them with us everywhere we go.

That’s all a bit ironic, though, since I’ve entered a phase of my life that’s riddled with solitude.  When I was in high school, I would’ve just called that loneliness or isolation. [Actually, in a funny twist, it was Peace Corps that called it “isolation.”  The volunteer originally placed in Missour has since been moved to a different site.  We asked if it was possible to send her to my village, since there’s so much work that can be done where I live, and the response from Peace Corps was that my area was “too isolated.”  Yes, I’m aware: Jon and I are the only native English speakers in a two-and-a-half hour radius.  I’m aware that we’re isolated.  I probably shouldn’t complain about that too much, though, because there are plenty of other volunteers who have been isolated in their service (cough, Meetra, that’s my nod to you).  I probably also shouldn’t complain, because I’ve grown truly thankful for Jonathan Pleban.  I think it’s safe to say we’ve been a breath of fresh air for each other at much-needed times.  We’re even planning on getting a gym membership together, which is hilarious, because we’re both two of the skinniest guys ever, and we’ve both lost 20-something pounds since arriving in this country.]

But all that said, and I don’t like those terms, you know, “isolation” or “loneliness,” because while I can definitely feel that way sometimes, I don’t think that’s what it is.  I think solitude is something completely different.  I think it’s something sacred and needed, a time to look within and search and waken some part of yourself.  And I think in the same way that we live life like the people we love, they go with us in our solitude and make solitude more of a multitude of sorts.  When Hope was here, one of the things we talked about was Henry David Thoreau’s need to “know a place,” to sit with something as simple as a tree you like and get to know it and the perspective of that tree, and I think my last six months will be spent doing a lot of “getting to know” the orchard where I live.  It’s a matter of finding a tree and being with and sitting with it until I’ve included that tree in my solitude.  Until some tree, and the place of it, has joined me in my gathering of the things I want and need to remember and carry with me wherever I go.

Walking around the orchard reminds me a lot of walking around the Garden of Gethsemane when I went to Israel – this ancient grove of trees.  It reminds me of seeing the Latin graffiti on an ancient cave wall that said, “sustinete hic et vigilate mecum,” which means “Stay here with me and keep watch,” something Jesus says to the sleepy disciples right before they slumber in the grove.  I think that’s what I’m here doing, being vigilant with myself, keeping watch over my little grove and occasionally falling asleep and reawakening to see the events and the world around me set in motion during my slumber.  I love that image a little, though, getting lost in the orchard and sleeping by some tree, failing to keep watch, waking up and realizing that’s okay, that the world keeps moving, that I’ll move with it and adjust.  Because that’s what we do.  We adjust to whatever comes our way.  We have no other choice, and it’s a good thing.

A month or so ago, I bought a copy of Rainier Maria Rilkes Letters to a Young Poet in English.  A paragraph from one of his letters has settled with me and guides me through my quiet days in the orchard, my distance from those I love: “But everything that may some day be possible to many the solitary man can now prepare and build with his hands, that err less. Therefore, dear sir, love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentations the suffering it causes you. For those who are near you are far, you say, and that shows it is beginning to grow wide about you. And when what is near you is far, then your distance is already among the stars and very large; rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind, and be sure and calm before them and do not torment them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or joy, which they could not understand. Seek yourself some sort of simple and loyal community with them, which need not necessarily change as you yourself become different and different again; love in them life in an unfamiliar form and be considerate of aging people, who fear that being-alone in which you trust. […] your solitude will be a hold and a home for you even amid very unfamiliar conditions and from there you will find all your ways.”

I hope wherever you are, you find all of your ways, however you need to figure that out.



  1. Pingback: St. Simons and Seashells by the Seashore | saunterings

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