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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Existential loneliness

© Another Day in the Country

I was an only child for my first 12 years, and my mother was a constant through that growing-up time. She was always there. Where she went, I went.

I didn’t know what it was like to be alone until I went to bed at night.

Being alone, in a big bed, was bad enough; getting to the bed from the expanse of the doorway, a good six feet of open, empty floor, was the scariest of all, even if the room was lighted. It often wasn’t, because if I turned on a light in my bedroom, I’d have to re-navigate those six feet to turn it off.

Until I was a teenager, I had an irrational fear of what might be under my bed. Who knows why these fears raised their scary heads. Aiming for the bed, I would jump from two feet out and dive under the covers with just my nose poking out and pray for sleep. I thought it was very unfair that my grown-up parents had someone to sleep with and I didn’t,

Prayers were supposed to help, but the thought of kneeling beside the bed to pray was scary.

“I’ll do bed prayers,” I would say if my mother called out to me from the other room, “Have you said your prayers?”

Bed prayers seemed to be only about 25 percent effective, according to my mother; but definitely in the category of “better than nothing.”

The progression of life took me as a teenager from home to a boarding academy, where I always had a roommate, and then on to college. Halfway through college, I got married and thus ended sleeping alone.

Somewhere in that maturing process, I conquered my haunting uneasiness about being in the house alone, especially at night. I grew up!

Then, for thirty-some years, I lived in the middle of family hubbub, actually wishing for alone time, craving some quiet. I was pretty much never alone.

Even when coming back to Kansas, I wasn’t alone. My sister came with me.

“I’d have never done it alone,” we say back and forth to each other, and it’s true: That was quite an uprooting into the unknown.

I’ve lived alone now for several years. My sister has her house; I have mine. Some aspects of aloneness I’ve learned to cherish. I like that it’s only my messes that I clean up, usually. I enjoy early morning quiet when the sun streams in the window and all I hear are bird sounds. I love reading without being interrupted. Yet I prefer being with people.

When I’m in Kansas, doing something alone, I think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to live closer to my kids so that I could do things with them.”

When I’m in California, experiencing what it really means to “do things with them,” I realize that doing things with a group is not as idyllic as I’d imagined. There’s a lot of negotiating taking place, a lot of waiting, a lot of changing plans to accommodate other people and their particular circumstances. There is a lot of mayhem that I’m not used to.

Essentially, we are always alone in our unique experience of living. I can be in a tiny town and feel very much alone because I don’t see myself mirrored in the people I meet. I am different from others in what I eat, what I believe, and the things I enjoy doing.

To combat that lonely feeling that comes creeping in every once in a while, I look for things we have in common so I can feel that lovely reassurance of understanding that sparkles in everyday conversation.

Even with family members, especially close kin, I search for areas of compatibility that tell me, even in a crowd, I’m not alone. Sometimes it is so freely available that I take it for granted. Other times I have to look carefully to find it.

My grandson loves the game Minecraft and inhabits that virtual world for hours on end. He’s good at navigating it and creating beautiful homes on the computer. He has a video going on his iPad of some guy talking about Minecraft while he’s on the bigger computer.

I sit beside him, trying to understand this realm. Even though I try, I don’t really understand or enjoy the game.

It’s another day in the country, and this isn’t how I imagined my time with him would be.

“Doesn’t that noise of someone else experiencing Minecraft drive you crazy?” I asked him, because it certainly was annoying me.

“Nope,” he said, “I like listening to it so I don’t feel alone.”

Last modified June 30, 2016

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