To every thing . . .
“How we need another soul to cling to.” — Sylvia Plath
The front of the house was enwreathed in leaves from last autumn. It was March. It was past time. I got to work.
The leaves in some places were a foot deep, having settled around the sides and front of the house’s decorative front porch. All different types of trees’ leaves had found themselves caught in the barrier, and had not moved for months. Just lifeless, taking up space. Meanwhile, underneath, thanks to the unseasonably warm winter, green shoots were already fighting their way up in search of the light I finally allowed them, as I methodically, rhythmically cleared away the remains of a season that had passed months before. I should have uncovered that space long ago.
I fit the typical stereotype of those who have grown up as only children. I crave moments of solitude. We often tend to be introverts, set in our own ways, and dare I admit it, type A and stubborn. We are not the easiest companions.
But much as we love our solitude (just 10 minutes to decompress when I first arrive home each night, please!), our upbringing as lone children also leads to craving companionship. That unknown something we did not have in our lives to the same degree as those with siblings. Or perhaps, a realization that all that focus on self is not enough, is meaningless. We “only’s” would like to think the Thoreau value, “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” is absolutely satisfying. But it is not.
Asked how powerful that need to connect is, scientist Matthew Lieberman responded, “Different cultures have different beliefs about how important social connection and interdependence are to our lives. In the West, we like to think of ourselves as relatively immune to sway of those around us while we each pursue our personal destiny. But I think this is a story we like to tell ourselves rather than what really happens.
“Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans,” Lieberman continues, “the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems. We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”
So it’s an inner war, perhaps: desire for time alone, coupled with a need, admitted or not, not to be alone. That desire to give of myself wholly and unquestionably to another is fervent. I want to wake up each day with someone to whom I can dedicate myself — removing focus from my own concerns, and meeting his instead. That opportunity is so much more satisfying than focusing on myself. Perhaps other only’s can relate?
When we only’s do commit to another person, we are all in. Our loyalty, dedication, and fortitude is as strong as they come. We are friends — and partners — upon whom can be depended without question.
But we are still hard to live with. We get in our own way. We want to be with someone with whom we can be confidently alone with our own selves. Contradictions.
Nevertheless, for me, my fulfillment comes in giving to another, finding that person to reach my hand back toward — and reach out to their outstretched hand when I need — so we can pull one another forward. The Thai artist Pratchaya Mahapauraya who goes by “Sundae Kids” online, captures much of what is satisfying in companionship, and difficult in solitude, in his art. (Consider this one inspired by a song, “We are just strangers with memories.”)
I very recently finally came to the place where that commitment existed in my life. It was strong, known, an anchor. And then it was lost.
I now continue to struggle with what Lieberman indicated is a very real, palpable pain. (But I’m a supposed to be satisfied in my solitude, such is my individual “type”! However, “we may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”) I find myself back to the point of coming to grips with balancing my need for solitude with desire for companionship — after a long dormant period of not moving one way or another.
So here I am putting in the work of cleaning up the end of a season as I embark on the beginning of a new one. And when this work in the dirt and grass and leaves becomes necessary once again in the turn of the season, hoping the next time, there’s another set of hands reaching out next to mine.
“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” — Mark Twain