I believe in the difference between being alone and being lonely.
My mother and father divorced when I was five years old, a trauma that was immediately far more difficult on my two elder sisters than it was on me due to my age and the circumstances. My father had been a generous, loving man who delighted in spoiling us with every luxury we would afford. Slowly, something began to change. He would increasingly spend his evenings and weekends somewhere else, begging off dinner with us for meals and drinks with clients. Because I was so young at the time, he became a ghost to me; I didn’t get to know him, because he wasn’t there. Relying on pop culture’s obsession with glut and adultery, one might assume he was up to no good. But my father wasn’t having romantic dalliances with a mysterious woman or drinking our grocery money in some squalid bar…he was, quite simply, a workaholic. He loved his job, his company credit card and entertaining customers so much that his home life became a distant after thought.
My mother was a home maker, a mother of three girls, and was best friends with my father prior to this. As his presence waned, she found herself in a curious predicament…she was lonely. They had committed themselves to each other, vowed to see their lives through to the end together, and here was my mother left to care for three children alone, little more than a decade into their marriage. Finally, my mother drew a line in the sand. In the first of many powerful observations my mother made, she made her position very clear.
“If I am going to be lonely, let it be because I am alone.” She didn’t need the illusion of companionship; she needed reality.
She never re-married, never had another boyfriend, and she seems to be okay with that. She went to night school, became a paralegal, and then went to law school. She, my eldest sister and I graduated in May of 1993…from law school, high school and grade school, respectively. She did it of her own accord; she did it alone.
“There is a difference, she explains, “between being alone, and being lonely.” I have used this logic countless times in my own life, and it has strengthened me during times of solitude. When the laughter of friends has died down, and I am left to make sense of my life, being alone and being lonely is suddenly shifted into sharp contrast. When relationships fail, I take heart in the knowledge that being alone does not mean that I must also be lonely. There is strength in solitude, and while no man is an island, it is self reliance and independence that forges the necessary clarity one needs to navigate the turbulent currents of life.
My mother taught me many things, but this is the recurring reminder of my life…sometimes, I simply have to be enough for myself.
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