“She was so lonely,” I read in a book once, that “she grew away from other people.” It could have been Milan Kundera. Or perhaps Sherwood Anderson. I was 21 and living at my grandfather’s house in Lyall Bay, New Zealand. I had fled my life in New York City — in love, strung out, abandoned and abandoning — and the emptiness inside me felt as vast as the ocean at the end of my grandfather’s street.
Years later, when this kind of loneliness returned, I was 37, and again — after sixteen years — returned to my grandfather’s house. At that point, my loneliness was so great, I couldn’t even speak to people. Stepping into a store was painful. Speaking to a cab driver or a library clerk was fractious. Being met by “how are you?” or “can I help you?” when the sound of these words was unbearable.
What cures it, this kind of loneliness? Most of us think it is other people — the love of other people. But first, to be loved by other people, one must be able to tolerate them, to tolerate their closeness.
I think of this fairytale I liked as a child in which the earth opens up to reveal a whole new world in which a prince’s people are preparing for his wedding.
That’s what loneliness is — the vision of an abyss, of another world we have no part of — the awareness that one might be passing through life with no tether or meaning at all.
My solution to this — to the great loneliness? To tether myself. To walk the lake. To breathe the oxygen from the trees. To watch the ice balls float in the January lake.
Corniness — I was raised to hate it. But nothing is so different between us and the earth, birds, balls of ice. One cannot be lonely when one has experienced this.