"I have a need for solitude
I'll never be safe
in crowded rooms.
I like the sound
of silence coming on..."
It surprises me that this will be the first Mary Chapin Carpenter song I have used on this blog. But perhaps it says something about how much deeper there is to go in plumbing the depths of my own spiritual journey. MCC has sung me down many a dusty road...sobbing, driving hard and fast just to get away from the sadness, and praying for nothing more than a song that will make me feel less alone.
Her new CD "The Age of Miracles," was borne on the winds of her own "miraculous" adventure through a critical health-related wilderness experience, one that led her into a period of what she characterized as" painful depression, fear and anxiety." Its content is masterful, sobering, intuitive, and deeply moving. What it takes me hundreds of words to hint at, she hammers home with three verses, married to music that makes my heart weep, sing, and soar...but never feel alone.
There are cuts on this CD that I can't help but listen to with my eyes closed...it is almost as if I am remembering how it felt to have lived the moment that gave the song birth...only it is not my life, but hers, she is singing about.
There is one song though, that when I simply read its title, "I have a need for solitude," I couldn't help but wonder, once again, if we weren't actually "twin daughters of different mothers."
Solitude is not just a delightful interruption from an otherwise social norm of people and events, for me. It is my natural habitat, like salt water to a sea anemone. I need it. It is the oxygen I begin to gasp for after a long day of truly wonderful conversations, and deeply inspiring interactions with people who I truly love. But it has only been by the grace of God, that I have learned to appreciate the shifting levels of aloneness in my life with acceptance and wonder.
There was a time, though, when I seemed to need solitude in a way that was almost crippling. And I apologize for the insanity I put my family through during this very confusing chapter. I didn't understand it either, while I was in its grip.
There were days when taking our daughters to school, or having people come into our home was terrifying. It was as if other people's sounds, smells, their shapes slicing through the changing light, the movement of air, the rustling of atmospheric ions as they stole from room-to-room, felt like someone was sucking all of the carefully negotiated alone-ness out of my perfect space of solitude, and I couldn't breathe.
Unfortunately, my profession as a spiritual healer seemed to give me an endless supply of "get out of jail" cards...justifications for why I needed to leave, and one great excuse after another, for demanding it from everyone close to me. And if I didn't get it, I would seek it out at great lengths. There was a point in this chapter, when my favorite place in the world was a three foot by five foot windowless, cedar-lined closet under the eaves of our house where I had a little chair, table, lamp and fan. I would take my phone, and go there for hours just to take calls and pray. I thought it was a slice of heaven. Until it became a self-imposed tomb I didn't want to leave.
Oh yes, I learned to cope with the need to be "out and about" as a mother, wife, professional, and member of my community, but the ache for solitude was never far from reach. I took it with me wherever I went, and when society became too much, I would retreat. I would leave. I would excuse myself and find a place to hide...a bathroom, a closet, the backseat of my car, under a quilt, into my head...all alone. Social gatherings felt cloying, dense, and paralyzing. Solitude was like walking into a fresh, sweet, light-filled clearing...a high meadow redolent with the scent of chamomile and pine. But it was not freeing or liberating, because I thought I couldn't be "me" anywhere else. It had become a prison, instead of the open space I thought it was, and I was certain I now needed in order to feel inspired, and creative. I didn't know how I would find my way out of the labyrinth of my own creating, or if I even wanted to.
And then something happened. On a very normal day, while I was sitting all alone in my perfectly silent kitchen, I suddenly realized that solitude was, in all spiritual actuality,impossible. And in that moment, it, solitude, was no longer the "holy grail" in my life. Just like that. As I sat there, I found myself asking, "Why would I ever, even want something that was really never going to be true in God's eyes." Why, it was as clear as day to me: I couldn't be me...truly me...all alone, without you. And not just the "you" that is my husband, my children, my friends...but all the "yous" that I am blessed to have waft through my life, like the perfect perfume of hyacinth blossoms on a warm spring day...moment by serendipitous moment. I cannot love without you. I cannot be generous, kind, compassionate, honest, forgiving without you. Each of you, allows me to be who I am. God's beloved and be-loving child.
Although it's been a struggle at times to remember that I really do want to be this "best me," and not the person who seeks out closets and solitude like a drug, I now find, that even in those lovely moments when the gift of solitude does descend like a divine surprise upon my day, I am no longer more at peace then, than in a crowded room or a noisy kitchen. Why bother seeking something spiritually unattainable, since, in Truth, we can never really be alone anyways, we live together in Christ.
We are not "isolated, solitary ideas." We are members of the body of Christ, the spiritual collective called "man." We are but individual saplings, branchings from the vast root system of a spiritual organism, even larger than "the aspen grove," that stretches its arms across the Continental Divide. We are one with "the earth and the sky, one with everything in life." And I am "as much you, as I am myself." We are His.
Yes, I still love my solitude, that alone time when the house is clean, the silence is golden, lavender incense swirls with each shifting breeze, and figurative notation paper hangs in the air waiting for poetry and music to find their positions, like birds on a wire, and become a song or a prayer. But I no longer like my life better without people in it. I no longer think that I need soliude to be myself, to breathe, to feel peaceful, or to hear God's voice. And yet, as my friend Mary Chapin Carpenter sings, I will always like "the sound of silence coming on." Thanks MCC...welcome back into our company we have missed you...thank you for your words, your music, your heart that sings to us of miracles...
"My sense of nature's rich glooms is,
that loneness lacks but one charm
to make it half divine — a friend,
with whom to whisper,
"Solitude is sweet."
- Mary Baker Eddy
Kate Robertson, CS
My friend, and editor, Maria has reminded me that I have actually referred to Mary Chapin Carpenter songs in earlier posts. If you click on her name, there is a link to those posts. The first one will be this post, but if you scroll down you will find the others. Thanks, Maria xoxo
[photo credit: Photo of Inis Mor, Aran Islands by Kesra Hoffman - artist, photographer, painter]