The Problem with Solitude and a PSA

Public Service Announcement: Gingerbread-flavored gummies exist. Do not try them.

I’m currently sitting in an airport. I have been sitting in the airport for the last three hours. I will be sitting in the airport for three more hours. With the unpleasant taste of gingerbread gummi bears lingering in my mouth, I decided this might be the perfect time to reflect upon the good and the bad of this past week and its minimal vacation planning.

The Good

  • The Tower of London
  • Oxford
  • Blenheim Palace
  • Churchill’s Grave
  • Shakespeare’s Grave
  • Scones (so many scones)
  • Chatsworth
  • York Minster
  • Afternoon Tea at Bettys
  • William Wilberforce’s Birthplace
  • Fiat 500
  • A Pilgrim’s RegressBy C.S. Lewis
  • Solitude

The Bad

  • Sickness
  • Constant Decision-Making
  • Solitude
  • Gingerbread Gummi Bears

I could talk a lot about all the things listed above. However, my fingers would definitely give out before I had typed half of everything I could and would want to say about them.**  Since that is the case, I am going to focus on the item that is on both lists—solitude.

Merriam-Webster defines solitude as the quality or state of being alone or remote from society.

With a few exceptions, I spent this week in solitude.

Yes, I texted people. Yes, I talked to people at restaurants. Yes, I was often near and around crowds of people, but I was still alone. None of the people constantly swirling around me were my people. I was a stranger to them and they were strangers to me.

To be clear, I like being alone. I am a strong, independent female.  I like making my own decisions. I am also someone who tries to cultivate the art of solitude. Seeking out opportunities and ways to be alone, even when surrounded by my people is something that I try to do in my everyday life. In a world where we’re apparently supposed to be connected 24/7, turning off the phone or being able to ignore its siren call is an act of defiance that I so often fail.

This week I was able to unplug a little bit. I was able to cultivate solitude. I wandered around the English countryside reading good books, writing about my experiences and thoughts, thinking deep and not-so-deep thoughts, and building castles in the clouds.

It was marvelous.

However, there is a downside to solitude. Sometimes after being alone, you want nothing more than to be with your people. Sometimes that isn’t a possibility, especially when you are on the other side of an ocean.

On Wednesday, I visited Chatsworth i.e. Pemberley in several different Pride and Prejudice movies. I woke up that morning with a migraine. Additionally, I was just feeling very out of sorts. However, I was determined to carry-on. “Chatsworth or die” was my motto for the morning!

I made it to Chatsworth. My headache was gone, but I still felt crummy.

As I walked into the main hall of Chatsworth, I turned excitedly around, wanting nothing more than to share the moment with my mother. Finally! We were actually in Pemberley! She wasn’t there. We weren’t there. I was. Me. All by myself.

I took a deep breath and snapped a picture. She wouldn’t be up yet, but I was ready to make her jealous of all the pictures once her alarm went off.

As I explored the home of the Duke of Devonshire, I started to feel both physically and emotionally worse. My head was hurting again and I kept wishing, despite firmly telling myself to stop, that my mother was here. My heart had started a steady chanting of “Mom should be here,” while my head set up a pounding chant of “Stop being so silly, you’re an adult.”

So what happened next?

I ended up crying behind a rather large bush in gardens at Chatsworth.

Yeah, not my proudest moment. But I wasn’t the first and I know I won’t be the last to take refuge behind shrubbery in times of emotional distress.

For the full context of this unexpected shower of tears, I was missing my mother. I was feeling physically ill. I also couldn’t stop thinking about the multiple hours of driving I still had left before I could rest my head. I couldn’t make a decision about what to do because I felt so awful and I couldn’t go find a place to sit and think it out because people might see me crying.

One of the worst things about being alone so much is making every decision. Solitary decision making is really nice most of the time. You can eat where you like. You can stop when you want. You can take the two-hour detour or not. You can spend hours readings at a café and no one is going to be annoyed at you. However, it can get old. It can get overwhelming. It is especially overwhelming when you are in a foreign country on holiday and your nearest “home” is in yet another country. All you want to do is curl up in your own bed and that really isn’t an option.

Back to me crying behind a bush at one of the most gorgeous estates in existence. . .

I called my parents. Technology is a wonderful thing sometimes.

Just hearing their voices on the other end of the line helped so much. The war between my head and my heart quieted. I still felt ill. I still wished my mom was with me and not an ocean away, but I wasn’t quite so alone.

They talked with me. They cheered me up. They helped me make a decision. They encouraged me. They told me that Wednesdays are the worst day of the week and that I had too much adventuring left to let this moment define the entire trip. They told me to be brave. They said everything that I needed to hear and more.

I stopped crying. I wiped the tear stains off my cheeks. I was okay again. I wasn’t 100%, but it was a start. I walked out from behind my bush to face the rest of my semi-spontaneous, solitary adventure. Something inside me wasn’t quite at peace yet, but whatever was out-of-whack could wait until the next leg of my journey was done.

Solitude is a good and necessary thing. It is in solitary moments that I am most often at peace. I am closest to God in moments of solitude. It is when the outside world is muffled that I am best able to hear the still, small voice or feel the overwhelming comfort of his presence.

That being said, it’s also nice to be with people, especially your people. And if you can’t be with your people in actuality, it’s nice to hear their voice over the phone. Solitude has its place and it is an important place, but companionship has a role to play as well.

On Thursday, I participated in an evening prayer service at York Minster. I didn’t know anyone there, but as we repeated the well-worn words of the service, the peace that I so often feel only in solitude crept into my soul. The disquiet and unease of the day before vanished. I found my solitary peace, not in the hills of England or in the hallways of grand homes, but in a community of strangers bound together with the blood of Christ. You’re never really alone with Christ and his Church.

That’s a nice truth to remember every now and then.

The East Window at York Minster. Arguably the finest example of Medieval stained glass in the entire world. It depicts the Old Testament in its entirety and only took 3 years!

**If you want all the details, I am happy to arrange a tea/coffee meeting once I am back in the States. 😉

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