Look Closer

old manI came across this on-line and knew nothing of its authenticity. So I did a little research and found generally the free form poem is considered a “hoax” and not necessarily written by a “cranky old man”. Regardless of who wrote it and why, there is wisdom contained within. As one transitioning from the late fall to the early winter season of life I was touched by the realities highlighted many old-timers have quietly thought and felt.

Amongst his belongings, the memories of an entire life, they found this poem:

What do you see nurses? What do you see? What are you thinking, when you look at me? A cranky old man, not very wise, What are you thinking, when you look at me? A cranky old man, not very wise, Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes? Who dribbles his food and makes no reply. When you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try!” Who seems not to notice, the things that you do. And forever is losing… a sock or a shoe? Who, resisting or not lets you do as you will, With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill? Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see? Then open you eyes, nurse.

You’re not looking at me. I’ll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still, As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will. I’m a small child of 10, with a father and mother, Brothers and sisters, who love one another. A young boy of sixteen, with wings on his feet Dreaming that soon now, a lover he’ll meet. A groom soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap, Remembering the vows, that I promised to keep. At 25, now I have young of my own, Who need me to guide, and a secure happy home.

A man of thirty, my young now grown fast, Bound to each other, with ties that should last. At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone, But my woman is beside me, to see that I don’t mourn. At fifty once more, babies play ’round my knee, Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my wife is now dead. I look at the future, I shudder with dread. For my young are all rearing young of their own, And I think of the years, and the love that I’ve known. I’m now an old man, and nature is cruel, It’s jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart, There is now a stone, where once I had a heart. But inside this old carcass a young man still dwells, and now and again, my battered heart swells. I remember the joys, I remember the pain, And I’m loving and living, life over again.I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast, And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people, open and see: Not a cranky old man, Look closer, see ME!

I wept for relationships not possible
due to denial and dreams locked
in the back of people’s minds,
all of the bits of life
that lay dormant until
the babblings of televisions
and nursing homes sweep them away.
It makes me wonder how many of the dreams
we had originally have already been forgotten.
Christopher Hawke

The Perceiver’s Vantage Point

tumblr_m3wbh9fPRD1qzjwnko1_500Being solitary is being alone well:
being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice,
aware of the fullness of your own presence
rather than of the absence of others.
Because solitude is an achievement.
Alice Koller

For a long time the beliefs I carried made Alice Koller’s statement impossible for me to grasp and appreciate. Knowing people who were alone used to bring thoughts tinted with pity, suspicion and sympathy. I was compassionate, but looked at such people as not being whole. Surely there must be something wrong with them. In other words, something would be wrong with me if I was alone.

The glass that life is viewed though is only the perceiver’s vantage point. It can feel true and be far from it. I did not realize my fear of being along drove me from one relationship to another. I honestly thought I was normal and feeling incomplete without a woman in my life was typical for every man. Without any rational examples in childhood of what love between a man and woman was supposed to look like, I ended up believing it meant ‘to be with someone’.

So many people are terrified of their own company. The thought of being at home, by themselves, with nobody to talk to, is debilitating for them. So they do everything possible to avoid just that; they create an overactive social life so that they are always with friends, or they become workaholics so they can drown themselves in their jobs, or sadly many even become alcoholics; but all with the same goal: to avoid the pain and darkness that they feel by being alone.  http://jeanniepage.com/2011/04/09/the-art-of-being-alone/

My phobia of being alone is not unique to me. Many carry the burden with a fear greater than heights, snakes or even death. My irrational fear was based on the belief that being “alone” was like an illness or some other unfortunate condition that happened and had to be cured. It was a great sense of failing; a sort of emptiness when a romantic partner (or several) was not in my day-to-day life.

The shape of my thinking today about being alone is quite different. Not only do I not fear aloneness as I once did, I actually enjoy it a good bit of the time. And that amount seems to be growing as who I wish to be and who I am become more parallel.

The pain in loneliness comes from all that surrounds it, not the act itself. And when you spend enough quality time alone, you realize that it is indeed nothing to fear. You realize that you, by yourself, are happy and are confirmed in life and worth by everything around you. Chelsea Fagen http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/the-best-part-of-being-alone/

I don’t love being alone all of the time but find the peace in it more and more. Aloneness is not for the faint of heart for it will twist and wring a person at any point in their psyche where one feels ‘less-than’. Being solitary forced me to wrestle  a long list of inadequacies. The attacks of loneliness I felt were actually those things assaulting me when I was not distracted by a relationship. Being alone was damned hard and the first two years by my-self felt like they were going to kill me sometimes. But I survived and am so much better for it. Will I always be alone? I don’t know and hope not. However, today I am grateful to know alone or not is a choice I can make and not a perceived lack I have to fill.

I don’t want to be alone,
I want to be left alone.
Audrey Hepburn

Loneliness and Solitude

Solitude 268px-Frederick_Leighton_-_

In our language we have two words,
Solitude and Loneliness.
Solitude is being alone
Without thinking about being alone.
While Loneliness is being alone
And being aware you’re alone.

When I read those words in a small book from 1981 called “Meet Me Halfway” by Javan I was struck pointedly about the difference between solitude and loneliness. The two had always been associated together as essentially the same thing in my thoughts. The epiphany of the moment is the greatest block to being able to find solitude is loneliness itself. Having spent the majority of my life feeling a lack and being lonely for someone or something I could not put my finger on, it now comes as no surprise that solitude was always out of my reach.

Psychology Today had this to say about the two states: Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. It is possible to be with people and still feel lonely—perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.

Loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.

Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.

Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate.

Coming to understand the different between loneliness and solitude I can grasp better a comment by one of my heroes, Henry David Thoreau. He wrote I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. Previously I always thought that statement was in the realm of being anti-social. I get it now!

Before I am misunderstood, its important to note how much I enjoy being with close friends and a few members of my family. Often while with them in the past I still felt great loneliness. Why? I was a stranger to myself. Wishing my childhood had been different and running away from mistakes as an adult, I had never gotten to know myself. And that is the most lonely state a person can know.  We are always with our self and to be disconnected from self is the greatest loneliness possible.

I have lived alone now ten of the last fifteen years and for a good part of that time my loneliness was so acute I actually ached, but for exactly what I did not know. I thought it was a partner; a lover; some angel to come save me and make everything okay. No one fitting that description came that I noticed. However, the person to do the saving was around the whole time: ME!  I am deeply grateful for the self discovery, an awakening, that came to me in the last five years.

In this age of ultra-connectedness it’s challenging to find solitude. Sometime I have to step away from email, Facebook, texts, and a phone that’s always on. When I first tried to do that it was harder to shut it all off than I would have thought. Now I can do it for a half day, a day and even for a weekend sometimes. It is an ability acquired only through difficulty which in turn brought clarity.

Today I enjoy my solitude. I relish the times when it is me alone in my home and all is quiet except the occasion creak of the house or the soft hum of a car going by outside. It’s then my thoughts are clearer, my meditations more peaceful, my reading better comprehended and my mind, body and soul seem to connect at a higher level.

The best art, the best writing, the best discoveries are often created in solitude, for good reason: it’s only when we are alone that we can reach into ourselves and find truth, beauty, soul. To even comprehend a portion of the magnitude of that statement brings earnest gratitude into my heart.

The greatest thing in the world
is to know how to belong to oneself.
Michel de Montaigne

Opportunity to Discover

The only sounds I can hear is the hum of my computer, the ticking of the old school clock on the wall in the hall and the furnace when it clicks on and off. I live in solitude and no longer despise it as I once did.

Most of the time now I enjoy being alone. I have grown accustomed to it, but do get lonely some time. That’s especially true when finding something I’d like to share but am the only one here. Either I never get around to sharing it with anyone or else have to wait until I have a visitor. Often the initial excitement has worn off by then and imparting my discovery to another never happens. All in all, being alone is okay. Solitude and I have become fairly friends, but do have our falling outs from time to time.

What has living alone for a number of years taught me?

* My eating habits have become a lot better as I am the sole decider of what I put in my mouth.  Part laziness and part awareness, I eat far more fresh vegetables and fruit than ever before. And the crock-pot and I have become buddies!

* Playing music loud and having no one ask me to turn it down is cool. What little I watch television is only the programs I like. Sometimes movies would be more fun with someone to share them with.

* Being alone has given me great introspection and healing that was easier to avoid when I lived day in and day out with someone. Alone it is difficult to constantly hide from my fears and regrets. Many of mine have been resolved in my days of solitude and there is far more serenity than I  previously knew.

* My awareness of the little things someone did in sharing the workload of a household with me are abundantly clear now. Being a ‘one man band’ these days in keeping a home is all up to me. For those I once shared a home with who helped keep things running, please accept my delayed humble thanks.  I never showed my appreciation enough.

* Being alone lets me listen to my thoughts without having to edit them for anyone else. It has helped to get to know myself better. I’ve been surprised, shocked, horrified, amused, impressed, and eventually I have gotten use to most of what I think. Being alone has helped me learn and sort out what parts are good and important and which parts to tolerate or put aside.

* Being alone helps me figure out what I want to do with my time when no one else has the right to make demands of it, when no one else has expectations of me. I can listen to music all day if I want. An entire weekend can be spent reading or watching movies. I can eat popcorn for dinner, though I wouldn’t advise keeping that as a regular habit.

* Being alone gives me the gift of better connecting with people who I never thought much about before. Each chance encounter becomes a little more important. It might be one of the few I have that day, so I pay attention and interact more. The grocery clerk, a neighbor, my dentist, the woman at the dry cleaners, people at work; every encounter opens me a bit more to awareness of the person before me, human and divine at the same time, and the chance to share a little of my light with them and they with me.

* Being alone forces me to face my fears and walk with them to get to the other side. I have come to know most fears are mainly children of my imagination or lingering ghosts of my past. I’ve learned to invite them to come closer and closer becoming intimate with each one until it loses most of their power. Eventually, most fall away, and stay unconscious the majority of the time. What a relief!

Being alone has brought me a connection with a Higher Power not previously known. I’m not a religious person but being alone as brought me to a very spiritual place. I find I have a more consistent connection not only with the divine but with myself, the world around me and everyone in it. My thankfulness has grown, my prayers seem to be answered more and my gratefulness is at an all time high. Life is good!

I think it’s good for a person to spend time alone.
It gives them an opportunity to discover who they are
and to figure out why they are always alone.
Amy Secaris