I am stopping at my French cafe on the way to a Mindful Circle workshop. I have time to eat my favorite pain aux raison and sip a cafe au lait. As expected the woman behind greets me like an old friend and seems to remember that the last time I came in I had to settle for another pastry. I practice my few French phrases and indeed she corrects my pronunciation. The very center of my pastry is still warm and the baker is still bringing out the fruits of the morning’s labor.
I settle into caffeine and sugared pastry, and yesterday’s musings.
On Sunday, a man in my sangha was taking his sweater off over his head. As he reached his arms up to remove himself from the sleeves, the tee shirt under his sweater rode up and part of his back was visible. I stared. Not a prurient moment but a razor’s swipe of longing slice my heart. Years separate my eyes from the causal sight of another adult’s body. A sighting not connected with swimming pools and beaches. Years separate my hands from the touch of another’s skin. Before that moment, I had not reckoned the depth of the longing. I hunger for physical companionship without an object, without a particular person, without even a type of person in mind. This is hunger in the abstract.
French morning news is on the screen. An interview with refuges at a school where children eat and recite.
I have had twin pondering about this life alone. A stark reality that the odds are not in my favor. I may be alone for the rest of my life. 30 years. Perhaps 40. Terrifying. I was not built to live alone. I have learned so much from this losing. I want to use these awful lessons. I want to deny the possibility of forever alone, back so far away that my back is on the other side of the wall.
Now, a review of a musical about Charles Chaplin.
But is this a lesson, this aloneness? Perhaps to be alone is exactly where I need to be to learn the lessons that I have asked for from this life. Is it time to work through my sinful indulgences? Time to turn off junky movies to read. Time to write instead of trolling the web. Time to practice. Time to eat only as is good for my body. Time to create for myself alone. Time to do what I have not yet imagined. Selfish, self aware, self satisfying. Over the years a large portion of my good behavior was adaptive, based somewhat in wanting to look good, impressive, pleasing, as I imagined myself to be to and for someone else. Not always completely intentional, sometimes not intentional at all but looking back, I see the self assessments. The non-authentic being. The only example I can think to write about is that I ate only the number of cookies that David ate so as not to look obsessed with food. There was more. Worlds more.
But there were things that I never did, still do not do, to shape anyone’s opinion or vision of me. The garden is what springs easily to mind, the pleasure of soil denied while I heal this body of sciatica. This mindfulness teaching is another. This summer’s journeying another. Is this the time, perhaps the rest of my life the time, to find what I do without a look over my shoulder, without any need to impress or pass muster? How long has it been, if ever, that every movement, every choice sprung from only desire, want, need, self interest? From a hunger to do or think or feel without reference to another? Would a life of this kind fill my hungry loneliness?
There is a flip side to this aloneness thinking that brings me round the same bend, brings me to similar questions. In the time of waning grief, I lived with the gut feeling that this was to be a time in-between. The belief, without reason, that there was someone making their way to me as I made my way to them. Perhaps this was a way to occupy the part of me that might have been frozen in crippling fear. I have not necessarily imagined the one coming towards me as an equestrian vassal. What was coming could have been a place or event—merged households with a dear friend, a commitment to co-housing or a move to Italy. It, be it person, place or event needed to result in my not living alone.Towards that end, one of those ends, I cleared away the unnecessary, sorted books, went through manuscripts, organized memories and photos, got rid of old clothes and thought about painting the house in neutral tones the easier for a buyer to imagine herself setting up house. I was packing up. Somewhat metaphorically, to be sure, but readying myself for a quick-ish escape.
However, as I should have guessed, neutral walls and clean slates don’t fit me well. Neutral tones gave way to fern greens, dreamy grays and Julia’s Gryffindor room. The kitchen boasts of yellow cabinets and green countertops, the living room of Upper Westside styled book shelves. I made nothing neutral, I made it mine. The clean slate created a vacuum which begged filling. Immediately filling, not a waiting-for-the-next-step filling. Perhaps my need to believe that what was coming next was coming from outside of me allowed for the disengagement from fear and sadness, and space to engage with the yet unimagined self.
Was the sureness of my belief in a future rushing towards me the necessary camouflage for the self invention and creation? It has been a time in between but not as I imagined. And as I make my way through self invention and creation, I wonder if a life of this kind would fill my hungry loneliness?
I put my cup on top of my plate, and prepare to bus my table. “No,no, I do that,” my friend calls. “Have a lovely day,” I say. “A bientot,” she responds.