The Consolation Of Solitude
By Pat Gallagher
“I vont to be alone”, Swedish-born film star Greta Garbo is reputed to have said. It’s all I remember of her. Never saw any of her films; didn’t understand the mystique surrounding her. I thought she was odd. Did she marry? Have a lover? Have children? I’d no idea, but her desire to be alone seemed an aberration. I was young then. It would be a long time before I understood.
Many, many years after first hearing that deep intoning of Ms. Garbo’s desire I was sitting on the sofa in my living room flipping through a lightweight magazine. The title of a column about the secret to long-lasting marriages caught my attention. One older gentleman, asked how he successfully managed to sustain a sixty-year relationship with his wife said, without missing a beat, “Leave ‘em alone.” And that, as far as he was concerned, was the secret; all you needed to know. He wasn’t joking. I thought he was just a crabby old man, glad for the opportunity to get off his chest the weight of being shackled to a wife for a very long time. But, in retrospect, maybe hidden in that terse comment was a bit of wisdom, born of paying close attention to his wife of many years. Or maybe he wasn’t all that wise but had been taught by his [doubtless] patient wife that relationships need space–room to grow. His tendency was to cling. Hers was to claim for herself what she needed to thrive – time alone. And so they were able to keep going for 60 years.
I get it now. And so does my husband of 38 years. He’s figured out, with a little help, that I’ve a strong need for solitude. Alone, released from active concern about doing, I drift. My mind wanders and wonders at will. I pay attention to what lies beneath the chatter and busyness of my life. Solitude:
Where I learn what I think, believe
Where I imagine, create
Where I replenish
Where I rest.
In solitude is where I am most myself.
We are born with two imperatives: to survive and to thrive. The Coronavirus continues to threaten our survival. My survival depends as much on others’ responsible behavior as on my own. And I will thrive only if I call on my talents to make the most of what is possible and permitted. It has never seemed so necessary; so urgent to do so. During this time of isolation and withdrawal from the distractions of life before the pandemic I am going deeper. I am grateful for the consolation of solitude, wherein I learn what I need and must do in order to thrive. It seems counterintuitive that my contribution to the world requires a periodic withdrawal. It requires quiet and time. It is where I gain access to truth. And that is what I need most of all.
I come from
– the cramped cottages of Ireland. From the illiterate Ballyshannon drayman who by dint of sheer hard work and an educated wife became a prosperous member of polite society. From the daughter of a mill owner who found refuge in San Francisco and taught her husband to read and write.
I come from
– the fields and fjords of Norway. From the Captain of the barque Ellen who perished at sea, leaving his 17-year old son to sail on to California; from the Rogaland farmer who raised ten children and watched as six daughters, one-by-one, made their way to America.
– a descendant, a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a sister, an aunt, a teacher.
– a writer, the chronicler of family history; the keeper of stories.