Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Being alone

A few mornings ago I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It is the story of the concierge in an apartment/condo building in Paris, where very wealthy people live, and a 12-year-old girl who lives in the building with her family. The chapters basically switch off, told from the two points of view. The woman, Renee, and the girl, Paloma, both hide their true selves...until a Japanese man moves in and realizes the wisdom they each hide.

I will not tell any more of this story except to say it is a slow, philosophical read. Beautifully written, thoughtful, amusing even. Once change happens, it happens quickly and that is why I woke up early, knowing I was closing in on the end. There was enough early morning light to read, so I did. I galloped to the end and promptly wept.

This is not the complete message of the book, but at least one of them: that we are, each of us, alone. Ultimately we have to live with our true selves and we have to do it alone. While everywhere there is support of one kind or another--family, friends, spouses, partners, confidantes--in the end, each of us lives alone. And everything we learn, do, share is ours alone.

I was struck by this thought partly because I had just read this exceedingly moving book and was overwhelmed by and entirely filled with the story. Yet I had had this experience entirely alone. My husband slept beside me, oblivious to the emotional swell I was going through.

The other reason I thought of aloneness was that it brought to mind my mother. She will be 89 in early November. In the last year she has grown increasingly uneasy when being alone to the point that she needs someone with her 24/7. There is no overarching medical need for full-time care, it is more of a fear of aloneness. I couldn't possibly understand it or explain it and I don't believe I have the right to question it. There is the need. It is attended to.

Yet, when thinking about my mother, the sadness that envelops me is not so much that she needs to always have another human with her but that she never in her 89 years was comfortable with her own true self. That aloneness was never a place of comfort and now has become a place to fear.

I don't intend for this to be a melancholy statement. Mostly it is a lesson to myself. To recognize the beauty and tranquility in quiet moments of being alone. As I write, the train whistle blows in the distance, and I close my eyes. My moment, alone, on this unseasonably warm first day of fall.

1 comment:

  1. Ginger, you are amazing. I am going to go find this book today...