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watchingamovielighter

There is this quote by Paul Tillich, the existentialist philosopher and theologian:  “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

It’s an interesting quote and for me, in my 7th year of being a widow after an incredibly close marriage, I am finding there is certainly a difference between the two states.  I can not say that loneliness is never a companion.  It is, especially when I summon up the courage and take a tour by myself with strangers, many of whom are couples.  My husband is not there to sit next to me on the bus or hold my hand in a museum or on a walk along the rim of the Grand Canyon.  The loneliness then is profound.  And while I have made some dear friends on these same tours, I acutely feel the absence of my husband, who was my favorite travel companion.

But I am learning to appreciate solitude and even to discover that I can fully enjoy myself on solitary visits to a museum, a movie (especially with a bag of popcorn), a play (primarily if it’s a matinee when there are likely to be fewer couples) or a walk in the park.

I have family and numerous friends in New York City.    I have been taking classes and belong to The Transition Network, a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 600 women over 50 in New York City who are learning how to enjoy growing older through peer groups, special interest groups, lectures and group activities (thetransitionnetwork.org).  In short, my schedule is usually pretty full with activities involving other people.  Except when it’s not.  And then I have to decide if I am in a state of loneliness or solitude.

I find it’s much better to celebrate solitude than wallow in loneliness and towards that end, I try to make a point of doing something that I know I’ll enjoy doing –seeing a particular movie, going for a walk in Riverside Park when the sun is getting low in the sky with an iPod playing my favorite music, finding a particular museum exhibit I know I’ll enjoy.  I think you get the general idea.  In short,  I am learning to enjoy the times when I am my own company.

 

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I’ll be widowed for 7 years this coming July.  It’s definitely gotten easier to be on my own than it was at the beginning.  After all, we were married for more than 4 decades.  And we got married when we were just 22.  I never even lived in an apartment by myself.  I went from a women’s dorm as a graduate student to an apartment when we were married. My husband and I did everything together, so, in over 40 years,  I never went to the movies or the theater by myself.  I did work and occasionally had to make business trips, so I did have the experience of being on my own for hotel stays, dinners, airplane trips, but business trips are different.  Besides, I could always call my husband whenever I felt lonely.

The biggest challenge of being a widow is being on your own.  Always.  Even with close family.  Even with good friends. Even with almost 7 years of this new normal, it’s difficult.

As Eponine despondently sings in “Les Miserables”:

“Without him
The world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere
The streets are full of strangers”

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I looked out a window in my apartment this evening and there was a little boat gliding along the Hudson River.  My first thought was the Alcott quote I painted in watercolor on the box shown in an earlier post.  The difference was that the sky tonight glowed in pastel pinks, soft orange and yellow. The Hudson River was smooth as glass and the western sky over New Jersey was a magnificent pastel palette,  the last glow of a beautiful sunset after a gorgeous summer day in New York.

This wasn’t the stormy sky I painted but it was the image of a lone boat in the middle of a big river.  I suppose that imagery resonated with me as well.  Even without the storms anticipated in the quote by Alcott,  there is the need in widowhood to be able to be steer your little boat alone, no matter if the water is calm or stormy.  It’s still a little boat and a big river and you’re on your own.