dear hilary: you aren’t alone
Help. Why am I here? I think I’m having a panic attack over what I have done, and haven’t done, and the thing I promised God and the thing I promised myself and all of it is slipping away in the hard and new and I feel alone. Am I? Is anyone listening?
No, sweetheart. You aren’t alone. Do you hear me? You aren’t alone. You and all the thousands of other new college graduates who whisper these worries to their best friend on the phone late at night. You and all the many new employees in their new jobs counting the splotches on their ceilings as they worry about the morning. You and all the promisers, the rooted, the winged, the ones who got on airplanes and the ones who waved through glass tunnels as those airplanes left. You aren’t alone.
It feels that way because we live in a culture so afraid of silence we’ll offer almost anything to avoid it. We make this funny link between solitude and loneliness, between the absence of crowds of people and being unwanted, unloved or unlovely. Don’t make that mistake, dear one. Solitude is a gift, just like community. You don’t have to feel lonely when you’re alone. I don’t blame you, love. I walked to my car just this past week, one late night after work, holding my breath to keep from wailing that the parking lot was empty, I was empty, my office was empty, my bed was empty, everything, everything was empty and alone.
But the thing about living with wild gifts is that we don’t get to choose their arrival or departure. We don’t get to choose if wild gifts remain or not; if or when they come to us, if or when they go. You have a wild gift of solitude now. You might not have it forever. You might only have it for now. But I bet you’re writing to me because you’d rather give it back, right? You want to trade it for the gift she got, the calling he has, the job or the friend group or the curly hair or the…
And this is the same problem laced through a different story: we don’t get to choose wild gifts. We only get to receive them.
You don’t have to spend yourself on loneliness because you’ve been given a gift of solitude. You don’t have to be anxious or sad that you weren’t given the gift of young marriage or young children or a PhD program or a cross-country move.
I think that all those young college graduates, young professionals, the promisers, the rooted and winged, all of us waste time wishing we could trade lives with each other like lunchboxes. We all wish for a different wild gift. We all wish we had the kind of hard but beautiful someone else is living.
John Watson wrote, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” And he is right. I will say it a different way: Give love, for everyone is living a wild gift. Including you and your solitude.
You are here because this life is your wild gift. You aren’t alone. See? We are all right here, holding our gifts and lives out in front of each other.
We need you to hold yours, too.