Recently Little Human and I moved to the country.
Don’t you get lonely? Friends ask.
Yes and no.
Yes in that we’re still finding our feet and we’re exploring the lay of the land, and oh women oh women where art thou?
But also no...
This is my latest story...
Here in the country we have neighbours whose fence little Human can, with help, climb over to play football with their son and whose son can climb over to jump on our trampoline. And I like that my neighbour and I chat with each other instead of looking over each others shoulders or at our phones.
And yes country life has its politics and its feudal systems and well, lets see how they go, but it's also got something that was the chief motivator for me moving in the first place: nature.
Because when I move in the woods I experience something in my body and in my bones - but it is not loneliness.
At least... not that loneliness that inverts and silences you so that you drift by looking vacantly out on a world unlived, loneliness that leaves you wanting and missing and longing and entering a room and feeling utterly separate. I know that loneliness but it is not what I feel in the country. The city perhaps, but not the country.
Loneliness is not an aspect of country living; it is a characteristic of modern life and in some extreme cases its punishment.* But loneliness is also a quality of our humanity. When we live in a city there are so many distractions that we convince ourselves that loneliness is not something that we ever feel; but maybe that is our loss. Because to know our loneliness is to have a richer understanding of what brings us joy: I am lonely only for what is most important to me. And once I follow the wift of loneliness, something else happens and it is the very opposite of that hollow pain that comes with a loneliness ignored.
Last Friday evening I came back from a dinner and sat on the little mound that runs to the top of our garden, under the stars at midnight with Bongo by my feet. Normally being outside alone in the dark makes me quiver in me bones, but here in our cottage I feel something returning that well, I don’t know the word for it, but on Friday evening with dog beside me, a dog of the wild and a dog of the forests I sat and thought my god, it’s really happening: something I have spoken about for a decade (moving to the country) has finally happened. And this fills me my body with a blood that does something close to revitalise and I sit up and look around and I am feeling something but it is not loneliness.
What it is, who knows.
The ingredients that make us us
Us humans are terribly ashamed of loneliness. It is something so few of us want to lay claim to - at least not with those we want to keep face with - look at how quick we are to refute it. How wanting to avoid it. Lonely I? Ha! Not I!
And yet loneliness is a part of our human experience and to know our loneliness is to know good company. And yet I don’t think it is a case of ah ha! I am now at one with my loneliness! Me and loneliness have it sorted... loneliness is always around.
And the thing with nature is that we can engage with our loneliness in another way. Rather then reject it, or cling to it we can hang out with it. Give it some company. When I go out and sit in the woods amidst the wild ferns and the trees and the buzzards and the squirrels and the buzzing paraphernalia it is quite impossible to be lonely. Nature is interactive, relational in its nature. Like us really, except perhaps that we forget this most basic aspect of what it is to be human: that we are relational. That yes computers rock and iPhones and Instagram are thrilling, but us mammals just want to reach out and party.
So yes and no to loneliness. And yes and no to feeling just ever so slightly protective of my loneliness because yes I may feel lonely at times in my life, but it is not the common denominator of who I am; it is a part of who I am. And yes loneliness imposed is a death too soon. But loneliness welcomed may have the potential to be a seed for something else. Maybe it's time to plant that seed.
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*I write about my personal experience with loneliness, but also knowing that loneliness enforced such as solitary confinement is a hell on earth that few people are able to survive. I cannot imagine what it is for a person to be isolated from all that they love. The human heart loves connection – both in our joy and in our redemption. And I write this in respect of Kalief Browder's death, who was sentenced to 2 years of solitary confinement aged just 16. For more information about Kalief please read this brilliant Huffington Post article here