In the morning I am leaving camp, heading to my homeland. Not yet the place of my birth, but the site of my growing, or at least some of it: Mom’s house. Sometimes the knowledge of going back there makes me cringe, or brings a fear of all the hurt I have felt around the things that happened there. Tonight, however, I know I am going to a place I loved and still love. Mom’s house is where I learned to play guitar, watched countless animal babies take their first breaths, learned to cook, perfected the art of fire building, dreamed up wood forts, hay forts and couch forts and then worked with my siblings to make them real. It’s a place that holds memories so thick I sometimes think I might drown in them. I guess that’s what happens when you live in the same place for all but 2 years of your life.
I have been reflected the past few days on what I have learned and how I have grown this summer. A friend of mine posted this video on Facebook and it captures the essence of my growth over the past several months.
I have learned to be alone.
My whole life I have been lonely. As a teenager I thought this loneliness would kill me, or maybe I just wished it could. The past several years at school or wherever else I have traveled I have grown more comfortable with being alone, but I see know this was always because I knew there were numerous people I could see at a moments notice. Sometimes I couldn’t even find a place to be alone because people were everywhere. I was never really alone except for moments here and there.
In Uganda (yes, Uganda again), we were given four days of debrief experience. One day was set aside as a solitary fasting day. It was completely optional, but only a few people didn’t take the option. Even if you didn’t participate you were still alone. I didn’t shy away from it, but it was the longest day of my life it seemed. The hours dragged on and on cause there’s only so much I could do to entertain myself. I went for a walk, journaled, read, napped, and still had no idea how to fill the time, I just wanted to be with people and here their voices, feel their presence. I was so lonely and uncomfortable being alone there. I was panicked about leaving Uganda and going back to life and I wanted to draw all the life out of people I could before it seemed I would be lifeless.
This summer I had no idea I would be alone so much. Most of the time, though, I have been alone. The past month has been the culmination as I have lived entirely alone. This terrified me, I panicked the first week and, again, thought the loneliness would kill me. Maybe it did, though. Not literally, but maybe a part needed to die in order for another part to live.
As the summer went on I felt the need for solitude more and more. The last two months I have needed to be alone every day. When I am alone I feel so free. A girlishness returns to me and I feel my own beauty. It’s kind of surreal, yet so liberating. One day I put on my flowy orange skirt and went for a long walk in the waves. The water would catch the edged of my skirt, the wind would dance with it and attempt areal lifts. I skipped, I laughed, I watched people sitting together and did not feel envy or desire to have what they had. I was so content in my aloneness, so free in just being me, that I didn’t feel that desperate need have another person with me like an accessory. I didn’t even want someone else there because I didn’t want my carefree-ness to be hindered. Maybe one day I will be able to be so carefree with someone else, but this summer was about being comfortable with my own skin.
Part of the beauty of being alone is that I was able to grow quiet enough in my soul to let God speak and hear it. It used to sound crazy to me when people told me they talked with God like it was a regular conversation or just that he spoke to them was crazy. This summer I was alone, though, and being so alone gave me the space to let God so close I could feel him next to me at sunset and hear his answers to my questions. I would ask a question, and he would answer. I know, it’s a weird concept. I didn’t hear a booming voice from the clouds; it was the soft, still voice Elijah hears after 40 days in the wilderness (1 Kings 19). Not so much heard and felt, or understood. God skips the ears and goes straight to the heart. Which makes sense, right?
Being alone is something to be sought after and treasured. Not isolated, not desperately lonely. I guess solitude has the right connotations: intentional time alone to be with yourself, with God, with the ants and beetles, or even sitting alone in your car. Choosing to quiet your heart and mind and just be aware of what is around you and what is within you. It takes practice and discipline and moxie. Moxie is a great word for what it takes to be intentionally alone. It means force of character, determination, or nerve.
The beginning is tomorrow, my friends. We are closing this chapter and opening another. Get excited! Who knows what is around the bend or beyond the trees.