Lonely as a Cloud

Fredrick Sane, a young man in his twenties, pondered during his brisk stroll one Thursday evening in sultry May. The ends of his loose track trousers brushed against the road, forcing him to tug them near his knees to keep the ends from wearing out. The trousers were new. His shoes on the other hand had seen better days.

As Fred juggled between tugging his trousers, dragging his feet and rubbing the occasional drop of sweat that ran down his temple, he was reminded of the lines Wordsworth penned:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

Only this time the “daffodils” he saw were the yellow blossoms of the Tabebuia aurea, which turn their tree, bare from previous dry months, into a bouquet of gold.

These yellow blossoms though, were not what the verse brought to his mind. He thought of the cloud and of the poet, as he stared into a solitary cloud himself.

“Did the lonely cloud inspire the poet to read into the daffodils so much?” he asked himself. “Was it his solitary habits that made him appreciate the otherwise common sight in an English village?”

Fred was a successful banker at one of the biggest investment banks in the city. His decisions earned his company millions and also paid him rich dividends, including fat paychecks and reputation beyond his years. His day was routine: wake, exercise, work and sleep. Rarely would Fred be bothered about trivial pursuits like philosophy or art, rarely still did he pursue relationships. He was cold, calculating and the job fit his character well. It needed nothing more than his brain. The heart could go jump off a cliff, for all he cared.

But his mind — that could not read any more than the boolean true or false — was stirred because of the cloud and the flowers. Again he asked himself, “Does a person fight loneliness, or does one work with it like Wordsworth did?”

This sudden, philosophical question began a series of more that followed. Each one more trifling than the last. Fred’s walk was now an exercise not only of the body, but it moved towards fatiguing his brain, which was for many days stagnant from crunching numbers and reading charts.

“Why do people hide loneliness?”

“Why does society equate a lonely person to someone without a life?”

“But given all the pressure, how does one show loneliness outside without becoming a victim of this society?”

The answers he could invent only posed deeper questions than lead him to conclusions.

Then he wondered whether loneliness brought out the best in him. He was, after all, successful at what he did. Investment banking was not his forte. His interests were fixed at more flamboyant career options his education could have got him. This life, he said, was something he was forced to choose. Something he did to bring a better life to his mother and father, whom he loved to bits. He gave up his promising hobbies of web development and creative marketing for a monotonous and tedious job profile. Yet, he thrived. Loneliness and the depression of not doing what he wanted was not a barrier there, obviously.

Fred wondered if he resigned himself to this life a full four years after he was conscripted into it. And there he began to find his answers.

What kept him going? What made him accept his fate as an investment banker — a life he so hated initially, but then went on to beat every expectation his superiors had of him, and those he had of himself too? What turned him into a wooden person, devoid of any warmth or compassion whatsoever?

Though Fred was a high-flyer at work, though he built bridges with even the most difficult of his colleagues, though he could present himself to the most demanding of his financial clients and build lasting relationships with them easily, he could not do that in his personal life. Fred’s life was a constant battle between his own aspirations and those of his parents, who he had to support, even at the cost of his own vision for personal greatness and his quest for endearment.

Thoughts kept pouring into him as Fred discovered patterns to his life. He had lost at gaining affection on more than one occasion. His relationships always ended bitterly because he feared intimacy. This however, propelled him to a high altar of loathsomeness. He loathed commitment, especially to one person. He laughed at anything prefixed with the adjective ‘eternal’ — his frequent target being what people called eternal love — exposing people’s arguments for the fallacies they contained. “Show me a relationship where selfishness doesn’t play a part or where people truly act out of affection, and I will convert,” was his thought, though his friends would counter it with how relationships required compromise. “But what is the use of compromise, if compromising is used simply as a tool to save oneself from loneliness and short-term despair?” he would retort. His friends gave up on him eventually.

Still thinking, he looked upon his pedometer: 13,000 steps, it showed, he had walked about nine kilometers by then. His legs must have been aching, but he gave it no thought, for the evening breeze and the street lights that had by then come on, stimulated his urge to answer the questions that shook the peace that even the arduous hike could not help stabilise.

“But I am successful,” he thought. His mind was divided between settling upon this fact and continuing to look for more answers. “I am able to give to everyone what they deserve,” he said. But his heart, the one he would so rarely listen to asked, “but what have you done for yourself?”

Not wanting to let his emotions get the better of him he answered, “I have made myself. I am a successful banker, I am a fairly good blogger and I help the causes close to my heart diligently. I read and question even the best philosophies sometimes. And I care about what I do,” came his answer.

“More importantly,” he continued, “I have given to some people what many would term wimpish. I have gone out of my way for my friends, though I may not have won them over, and that must count for something shouldn’t it?”

“Is a life with another person any good unless that person is equally affectionate and can appreciate my small successes or overlook my weaknesses when they arise? So far, I have not met that person!” he concluded as he took the last bend before finally reaching home after the walk.

“Loneliness has brought out the best in me,” he said. “I learned to be good at my job and to empathise with people because I know what it is like when all my cries don’t fall on anyone’s ears. Loneliness made me read and analyse Wordsworth, and that should count for something, shouldn’t it?”

Fred finally reached home. His questions still remained unanswered and would haunt him everyday since and he wondered: Had he reached the right conclusion or had he defeated himself to his world of facts? Fred’s little walk concluded just as the poem from Wordsworth did:

“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
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