Aloneness

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I have very few photos of just me so you get ones with my gorgeous dogs

I was walking among the towering Ponderosa Pines of Northern Arizona as the last vestiges of sunshine turn the tree tops into living torches of silver and yellow.  As I crunched through the brown needles and watched Tex and Chaco sprint around hunting anything—squirrels, chipmunks, deer scent, maybe a grouse, I was reflecting on being alone.  Honestly, I was sad to leave my home, wife, son and my own bed for the last three weeks of this sabbatical journey.  I have relished and struggled with being alone.  Often, I enjoy the freedom of being alone to make decisions my way but during this interesting journey I wish Laurie, or another friend was along to share my experiences.  My best times have usually been with other people.  The good news is that Tex and Chaco, my enthusiastic travel partners are always happy to be with me and reduce the sense that I am alone.  They don’t talk much though.

I am also addressing this topic because my son, Jason, in a long phone conversation challenged me to answer the question in my first blog where I opined that one of my challenges was to see “how I would manage aloneness.”

I have been alone for most of this trip and will be mostly alone for two more weeks until Laurie, God willing will join me in California for the last week. I am congratulating myself for dealing with aloneness with little pain.  I like who I am, that helps. I feel connected which I think is the key to being ok with aloneness. I am connected to the creator God who makes me feel whole; I have a wife, Laurie, who loves me and grounds me; I have five amazing children and one, Jason, who still lives at home.  They all still need me in differing degrees to still be dad and now more often a friend. I have a leadership role at Menaul School and in the larger community where I am known and needed.  All of these connections ground me and give me purpose.

On a practical level, I have a cell phone and dozens of folks to call. I have Facebook and Instagram which “connects” me to other people’s stories and new ideas. I have my books to read, a Prime video series, “Patriot” on my iPad which is ironic, quirky and suspenseful and is greatly entertaining. I have a dark Audible story, “The Cartel” which feels like a violent train wreck which I am blessed to observe from the sidelines and thank God I don’t live in Northern Mexico.  My modern media devices prevent me from my evening times just sitting and thinking around the campfire although I long for more good weather to enjoy that. So, my entertainment and many connections are lifelines that prevent me from living truly alone like someone in prison or in a wilderness cabin.

So, I am alone but with a strong set of connections which keep me grounded and not lonely. Even when loneliness creeps in, my tools help me cope and put that loneliness aside. Thanks to the gifts of my life, I recognize that I am not truly close to alone. An example of extreme aloneness is the hero of the movie and book, “The Martian.” Now he was truly alone. Millions of miles away, unlikely to return to earth, with just a few mix records of his favorite 80’s music.  He had only himself to resolve his problems which made for a great movie and is certainly a better example of someone lonely and alone who has every right to howl at the universe about his loneliness which he did quite dramatically.  But he also used his wits to return home which made for a satisfying movie ending.

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My constant hunting companions–Chaco and Tex.

When I consider aloneness, I think of Kipling’s poem “If” where he challenges the reader to be a man despite the circumstances.  He expects a real man to maintain his character and virtues whatever life brings—success, failure, adoration, rejection—I extend this to include aloneness.

My Minnesota background, personal temperament and Norwegian heritage make me at heart stoic in the face of difficulties.  If Aloneness is a difficulty, it is one I have chosen so my response must be acceptance and certainly not complain.

Many people, including me, experience aloneness, often it happens in a group of people, with a loving spouse or with family.  Feeling alone, I believe, is a human soul condition, which is resolved by accepting aloneness as a gift.  So, feeling alone has more to do with internal struggles than with external circumstances.  It has more to do with hope and faith than life.  I think that if you have God, He can be a connection to help deal with that aloneness. Unfortunately, God, in most people’s experience Him, is no easy panacea—he is certainly no simple fix for all of our needs and challenges. I believe He is the Start and maybe the end, the Alpha and Omega.  I have known many believers feel abandoned by God when bad things happen to them or that they don’t deserve his love or attention because of their choices or life.  My point is that Believers struggle with being alone and just claiming “Jesus is my friend” will never be enough.  Life, as He created it, is not, thank Him, that simple!

Nonbelievers have to manage this existential funk by living for the moment, this life or for themselves since without God there is less of a reason for morality, selflessness or hope. Without ultimate truths or consequences, they have to find hope right here on this earth which will ultimately disappoint.  Many people who follow this material, we are only here by chance philosophy, have discerned that when followed to the natural conclusion like Sartre or Camus, end up feeling very alone in the universe.

While I don’t fall into the nonbeliever, existential camp, I am sympathetic to their plight and philosophy. I too have many questions about how a good God allows evil in the world that I pay attention to how people think when they are not connected to God.

Aloneness does give me the gift of reflection and the chance to explore what I like to call ultimate ideas, ideas of eternity and God, ideas of life and good living, ideas of hope and hopelessness.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to think with great writers, good people while living in my own mind a lot.  This may be the gift and solace of being alone and a little lonely.

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My partners for three months on my Sabbatical Journey.  They did a lot to ameliorate loneliness.  They may not talk much but they listen well!

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