Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Involuntary Solitude And Its Possible Consequences

     “No, Drew, I don’t know him,” she said of her attacker. “At least, I don’t remember ever seeing him before.”
     “Charles Morgan,” Kevin Conway said. “Thirty-two years old. Lives on Two Rod Road in Oakleigh. Single, no children, lives alone. His immediate neighbors had nothing much to say about him.”
     “He was a quiet man,” Andrew MacLachlan intoned. He smirked. “But he had a smile and a kind word for everyone. Never too busy to say hello.” Conway snorted and elbowed him in the ribs.

     [From The Wise and the Mad]

     I don’t mind being alone most of the time. I’ve had a lot of practice at it. While I don’t find it as invigorating as did Thoreau, I’ve mastered its uses: time and space in which to think, to read, to write, to attend to whatever seems worth my attention, and to amuse myself as I please. But not everyone bears solitude as easily as I.

     Co-Conspirator Linda Fox, in a comment on this piece, wrote something that got me thinking about those who are more or less involuntarily alone:

     My elder brother, always shy and introverted (unless drinking), lost his best friend mid-way in his forties. The loss of someone to listen to his concerns was directly related to his spiral into alcoholism and early death. Until I read this today, I hadn't realized what that loss meant to him.

     For some, solitude is a prison. People immured indefinitely in solitary tend to go very bad, and later on to do very bad things.

     Solitude makes space for memories and thoughts that might otherwise never intrude upon one’s consciousness. Perhaps the most obvious of these is nobody cares. And indeed, that might be the case for some who are involuntarily alone.

     Certain raw facts about Mankind, when confronted too starkly or too personally, are difficult to bear. One of these is that for any arbitrarily chosen Smith and Jones, the probability that Smith cares about Jones or vice-versa approaches zero. The circles of our personal intimacies are small. If knowing that someone cares about you is important to you – and there are few exceptions to that condition – losing that person will be a blow. Losing all such persons can stagger even the strongest of us.

     Some who are involuntarily alone also suffer that emptiness. Like all vacua, it will be filled – and the thought that nobody cares virtually guarantees that what flows into it will be negative.

     Each of us keeps an emotional ledger of sorts. In it we tote up our assets and our burdens. The reasonably happy man sees more black ink than red. The unhappy man sees the reverse. The black ink is written there by our fulfillments and our loves. The red ink records our failures and our sufferings. And while the black ink can fade, the red ink is often indelible.

     Involuntary solitude makes it likely that the experiences written in red – failures, insults, disparagements, rejections, injustices – will come to occupy the loner’s mind. If these things are inadequately balanced by achievement, love, acceptance, and support – the things that make self-respect and the conviction that I matter possible – the loner’s mind might darken. His need to rebalance the books often expresses itself unpleasantly, through senseless destruction and / or violence.

     Have you ever wondered why a mass murderer is so often described as “a quiet man” who “kept to himself?” Perhaps it’s not that mysterious after all.

     Among the virtues too seldom preached in Christian churches is that of active brotherhood: the willed acceptance of others, however unlike ourselves, as brothers in Christ who deserve to be treated as such. For He came to redeem all of us, not merely a select group. He said so Himself: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Luke 5:32] Perhaps the highest act of brotherhood is extending a hand of acceptance: letting the other know that you care about him. It’s not as common as it should be, even within a long-established congregation.

     It’s uncommon because it’s hard and risky. It implies the acceptance of the obligations of brotherhood. It increases one’s own vulnerability. And sometimes the person to whom the hand is offered will swat it away with a snort of derision. The possibility of rejection is always there, and rejection is always unpleasant.

     But in offering a hand of acceptance to another, you might just be heading off the next mass murderer. I wouldn’t mind having that to my credit when I face the Particular Judgment, would you? Especially if, should the worse come to the worst, he has you on his target list. You can never be sure with a “quiet man” who “keeps to himself.”

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