Recently, my husband and I spent some time camping in the Appalachian mountains.
Night seems to fall early in the middle of a forest. Sitting around the campfire, seeing only the glow from the fire, I am conscious of my isolation from the human world. Beyond me is total darkness, but from out of the darkness come the sounds of a living wilderness. Somewhere, twigs and branches snap, leaves fall with a swish and scrape. Because I am human and not a creature of night, I have the trepidation of my species for the unknown and the darkness. And for separation from others of my kind. This feeling is not eased by an airhorn sounding through the obscurity as a diesel train curls through the valley by the river some distance away.
Some people would fly from the experience and seek the crowds and bright lights. Others feel at home here and are more disturbed by the noise humans make than by the mysterious sounds in the forest.
In the darkness of a mountain night, I know what it is to be alone and to be lonely. To be human is to know what this means. We might prefer crowds and noise, but, at the end of it all, we are alone. We face ourselves alone and we face death alone and no one else’s experience can prepare us for that.
In the episode “Metamorphosis” in the original Star Trek, an alien assuming human form cries out for the human condition: “Loneliness. This is loneliness. Oh, what a bitter thing. Oh, Zefram, it’s so sad. How do you bear it, this loneliness?”
But we have to bear it.
I would think that self-acceptance is an important part of how we deal with loneliness and being alone. Some of us feel nurtured on the mountains, whereas others prefer their solitude by the water, inside a church, or inside a room, but all of us must seek to live with ourselves, alone or in a crowd.
Bernard Moitessier was a French sailor and adventurer who participated in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a contest of endurance in which sailors from all over the globe attempted a solo non-stop voyage around the world. There was no GPS, no communications that we take for granted now, just one human in his boat.
On the verge of winning the race, Moitessier abandoned it. After months of solitude on the sea, he could not abide returning to the crowds, photographers, and journalists he would surely meet on shore.
He veered off course to make another voyage alone around the world.
“It is good to be alone,” he said. “On your own, you can discover who you really are.
His wife Francoise explained: “He was happy at sea. He was content. He found himself.”
We admire Moitessier for his self-sufficiency. There is a self-confidence that transcends whatever the indifferent crowd might think of us. There is a strength that comes from self-knowledge and finding comfort in one’s own company.
Photo attributes: tolstnev / 123RF Stock Photo