Many years ago, when the woman I worked for learned I was ending my ﬁrst marriage, she questioned my decision with a comment: “Won’t you be lonely?” I recall responding that one can be lonely even in a relationship, though I knew that her question reﬂected her own status as a widow.
Loss — death of a partner, children leaving home — often leads to an uncertain terrain of being alone, where what was familiar or comfortable is no longer, and it requires adjustment to keeping one’s own company. That’s how I think of solitude: being content to keep company with myself.
I have a favorite photograph on the wall in my study. Titled simply “Solitude,” the image by David Lorenz Winston is a snowscape featuring a leaﬂess tree and a zigzag fence. The image invites a sense of peace — a blanket of snow on a ﬁeld, a reminder to this Midwesterner of many winter days watching snow cover the landscape.
In a hectic, fast-paced world, solitude can be a refuge for the mind. More and more we hear of individuals practicing meditation to take a break from the intensity of work. Mindfulness is recommended as a habit to heighten awareness and mental focus. Even my Apple Watch reminds me regularly to stop and breathe deeply for one minute.
Unfortunately, some people conﬂate solitude with isolation. Admittedly, cabin fever can be very real in these days when the best recourse against the virus is to stay home. Our social selves want to be with others, whose company it is often easier to keep than our own. But I wonder what lessons we will have learned from these many months of keeping our distance. I’d like to think there might be a heightened appreciation for time to be alone with our own thoughts, perhaps prompted by a photograph like the one on my study wall. Have you tried it?