Saturday, July 13, 2013

Learning to Be... Alone

Lonely. In many ways, it's the most frightening word in the English language. Alone with my troubles. Alone with my thoughts. Just me and the man in the mirror. He hasn't always been my favorite companion.

We talk a lot about self-esteem in this world. Some people consider this a very bad sign: an indication of a people who are no longer interested in anything but themselves. Yet, the more we do to protect our self-esteem, the less comfortable we seem to become with whoever it is that we are. For many, and often for me, the prospect of sitting quietly with no music, no video, no book to read, no screen to lose myself into is downright terrifying. We say, "I'm bored," but I wonder if what we really mean is "I'm scared."

Scared of "lonely." Scared of the empty space that surrounds us. Will I be able to fill it? What if I can't?

I slept late this morning. 8:00 when I opened my eyes to see the sunshine and blue sky through my blinds. "What will I do with this beautiful day," I thought, breathing the cool morning air. "I need a playmate."

And now that I've showered and had my coffee and peanut butter toast, I wonder, "Why?" Why not a beautiful day with myself? Why is my first impulse to look for another? What do I want from them?

As you might guess, my shrink and I have spent more than a little time on these questions. Reflecting back on my life, I discover that I've been looking for something from other people for as long as I can remember. The little boy who sang for the grown-ups in church. The Boy Scout racing toward the Eagle badge his dad wanted for him, then suddenly turning away from that goal for the love of a pretty girl. The would-be preacher who heard his first applause and knew that the church would never be able to compete with a standing ovation in a darkened theatre. Lovers pursued, sometimes caught, always lost. Careers embraced and discarded.  What was I looking for?

And now, I am alone. No, not really alone. I have friends who love me. Mom, who will stick by me no matter what. Colleagues who respect me. A reasonably good reputation in my community. I have a safe place to live, a working vehicle, and food in the pantry. I am richer in people and things than most of the humans on the planet. And yet, I find an empty place inside me where Bob should be.

I have a theory: a question, really. It's a puzzle I've never taken the time to solve, or even really consider because I have always sought out someone else who would do it for me. I think I have spent my life looking for someone to tell me who I am.

Who am I? Absurd. 53 years old and trying to find myself. It feels like a task I should have taken care of when I was 17. Now here I am, well past mid-life crisis time, and I don't have anyone telling me the answer. No wife. No mentor. No audience. I have friends, some dear old friends, but these days, they seem as curious as I am. It's as if we're all waiting to find out who I'll turn out to be.

I want to run home. Run to my mother. Run to Martha. Run to rehearsal or the gym or church and beg someone to give me the answer. Find a friend. Find a lover. But then, there is another part of me that knows where that strategy has led me. I don't think I can ask anyone to tell me who Bob is any more.

I dream of a day when I can tell the world who I am. When I can tell myself, rather. The world will make up its own mind. People hear the story they think is true. My story has always come from the people who tell me what I wish were true. This is hard to put into words. It has to be hard for a reader to follow.

I guess I'm wondering if my Self is someone I need to discover, or someone I need to choose. Michelangelo was said to be able to see a figure in a block of marble. He just chipped away everything that wasn't the statue he saw. When I've chipped away everything that isn't Bob, will I find an empty space that needs to be filled, or will I find something I've been creating for years without realizing it?

I have no idea what's inside the marble of my life. But I guess it's time to start tapping away at the things I am not. And this is one project I'm going to have to do alone.

I'm not sure I can afford to get this wrong many more times...


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