I am spending time alone these past couple of days and for the next week. While I am busy with the process for which I travelled half-way around the world, my wife is visiting family and engaging in activity that has meaning in terms of relationship with others such as children and grandchildren. Besides, there is not a lot of attraction to watching someone constantly in a state of “self” discovery. Whatever the reason, I am finding myself in an empty apartment, alone but not necessarily lonely.
For the first few days, the reading, reflection, walking, blogging, writing and meditation has filled the hours with a vengeance. But, something else is beginning to emerge in the process, a feeling. I somehow forgot to check with myself to see how I was feeling about this time alone. In a way, I was avoiding that question and hoping it would never be asked. I thought it would be for the best to fill as many hours as possible with busyness. But someone asked me that question this morning.
A few quick answers came to mind and I offered these to the one innocently asking the question: “I feel alone; you know being with someone so many years makes a person feel alone when they are gone,” and “I now have time to do all the things I have been putting off because of the need to be present when one is with another person,” and finally “I thought I would now get to eat all the junk food I wanted, eat without thinking all of the time about diet.” A smile met my glib responses as if to say, “good try.” - ”No, how do you feel?” This time I sat a bit stunned. I didn’t know what to really say that would be honest. Finally a word came out of my mouth . . . “empty” . . .
Then silence. “What do you mean by empty?” Now, I knew I was really in deep shit at this point. I let something out of the “Pandora’s Box” that is my buried darkness and didn’t know how to stuff it back in. Oh, if only I could unsay that word then everything could be much easier. But no, I had to let that word escape. It is so humbling to find that I don’t have the control I thought I had over my self. I have age on my side, too much education, life experience and the belief held by a fair number of people that I am somewhat wise. All of the degrees and a zillion books studied and more – and I couldn’t stop that one word from escaping. It wasn’t that someone heard me say the word, what is much worse is that “I” heard me say the word . . . empty . . .
What did I mean by that word? If I wanted to lie to myself and deflect the deeper answer by saying that my bed was empty, that the apartment was empty of my wife’s voice and let it be done with. But that word demands more from me, more honesty. And I have spent several hours thinking about the answer and a few extra hours avoiding the question as much as I could. Finally, I realised that it wasn’t going to go away this time until I answered the question.
Empty – I have been married for a long time. Over the decades, anyone who has spent a lot of time with another person, quality time as with a spouse, or stressful time such as in a workplace that twists one’s gut; the absence of the other person leaves a hole – an empty space. This is fairly easy to understand. But in my particular case, this answers only a small aspect of what I really mean when I used the word empty.
I have filled my life with others, primarily with my significant other, my wife. Together we filled our lives with children and grandchildren, jobs, activity, friends and community. After all, this is what life is all about, isn’t it? I was spouse, Papa, Grandpa, coach, teacher, friend, counsellor, conciliator, trainer . . . a man of many roles and talents, and for the most part, I still maintain these roles. Yet, here I was using the word empty. Having my wife go away for a few days doesn’t exactly lends itself to the use of such a word, especially when the phone and various social media ensures that I hear the voices of my wife, children and grandchildren as well as friends and colleagues from around the world.
The feeling is real, that feeling is desperately trying to tell me something and I was desperately trying hard not to listen for fear of what I might hear. But, the word had been spoken. Empty!
It finally came to me – without t.he presence of others and faced with being alone with myself, I found that I wasn’t there, within. Looking inside all I saw was emptiness. The inner me had abandoned me, the ego me. It’s a shock to make such a discovery and I began to wonder what had happened? I knew the answer, but delayed in telling myself that answer. The inner self hadn’t abandoned me; I had abandoned my inner self and soul! Confronting me as I stared into this abandoned space was darkness.
So many signs, tripping because of inattention, focused attention warning me that death is real and time is finite for me as a human, my wife on a road trip – all these signs telling me that I need to attend to that which has been abandoned by my conscious self or else my last chance to embrace my inner self and heal that inner self, will pass leaving just an angry and pathetic husk of what used to be a man. Now, I am off again on the journey, destination self.