In my last essay [We Are Family, 01/10/21], I spoke about the importance of and the need for family and community. This essay is meant to be a ‘companion’ piece (irony not intended!) about the positive value of solitude and the fallacy of the fear about being alone.
Please notice the first word of the title: being. We are each individual persons who have rights and responsibilities and a God-given dignity and value that must be always respected. Our value does not come from the community we belong to, it comes from God. This is why we are never ‘really’ alone: God is our constant companion, our support, the very ground of our being and becoming. While community is essential for our growth, there have been individuals who have become saints in solitude because of their prayerful concentration on the presence of God.
The issue of aloneness was particularly important for me growing up. As an only child, I had to learn to be creative and resourceful in dealing with my life. I didn’t have the brothers and sisters around that help you to learn and grow. I had plenty of people express regrets for me that I was an ‘only’. But I quickly understood the benefits of being able to run my own life (with a lot of help from Mom and Dad!).
So, I learned to find some refuge in quiet times. When it rained on a summers’ day and my friends all went home to play with their siblings, I found two places that became second homes to me.
First, the Church. As it was always open, I would go down into St. Rita’s Church (in East New York) which was an underground Church. It smelled of old wax and prayers. There I learned to be still and quiet before God as I listened to the rain falling on the roof and the wind howling outside. My mother never worried; it was a much safer time and she knew my love for sitting in the Church watching in the candle light, flickering, the faces of the Blessed.
The other place I loved to go to on those days when I would have plenty of time alone (I learned to value my freedom during those afternoons!) was the Public Library on Arlington Ave. It was a big mansion of a place with ivy clinging to the walls, surrounded by a small wooded area around which a protective fence made it seem impregnable. When you entered, the one or two librarians seem to be always busy behind stacks of books and almost no one came in, except me. It was great having a place of learning where I could explore worlds by myself. Every book for me was a potential adventure, whether it was a book about far-off lands, or a book about an analysis of rocks or an adventure story. And best of all, you could also bring them home! (Mom didn’t like the clutter but she came to accept this strange habit of mine!)
So, on good days there were my friends and games on the street (hide and seek, kick the can, stick ball, punch ball, stoop ball, and the usual others), but on bad days weather-wise I had the Church, the Library, or I could stay home and listen to music (I started on Opera in High School). Mom seemed to be cooking all the time and Dad was at Highland Park with other retirees of our Italian community playing cards and Bocce Ball. I learned to be self-sufficient by being the only child.
I got plenty of positive reinforcement from the knowledge that Jesus was an only child as well. I could see it in the Gospels when He sneaks away to be with His Father in prayer.
So, generally, we should not be afraid of being alone. It is not isolation nor is it loneliness (which has more to do with a feeling of worthlessness that can come over us even in a crowd).
Being alone can be a prelude to solitude: that very special time when we can rest in being alone with God. Quality time. One-on-one. Face time (not the Apple kind!) with the Almighty.