Strength in Solitude

September Long

November 10, 2016

Silence. The absence of sound and the weight of loneliness is what surrounded me as I stood alone just inside the gates of Praha Castle.It was past dusk and the once crowded corridor leading to the magnificent castle and cathedral was now desolate.I peered off into the distance from the balcony, trying to decide if I should take the tram back to my apartment where the internet was unresponsive, making it impossible to communicate with my family. I finally decided that I would remain in the courtyard to view the splendor of the castle by moonlight; I could not bear the thought of sitting in my apartment by myself in hopeless anxiety. If I had to be alone, I would do so surrounded by the beauty of my favorite place in Europe. While looking out unto the beauty of the city, I began to think about my family and friends at home. It was Thanksgiving afternoon there and I smiled thinking of the joy that holiday had always brought to my family.I shivered from a gust of cold wind and tightly clutched my cup of coffee which was now nearly lukewarm from the bitter November air. A Czech couple walked past me holding hands, they spoke to each other in a sincere tone, but their words were foreign to me – unfamiliar and cold. Suddenly I felt more isolated than ever;I was surrounded by people who did not understand me and I did not understand them. To make things worse, every friend I had in Prague was travelling for the weekend – I was alone.

Desperately trying to disregard the feelings of fear and despair, I walked over to a bench and took comfort in my only companion, a book. I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and attempted to immerse myself so deeply into the words that I would no longer be aware of my loneliness. Halfway through the second chapter, my mind began to wander. I began to think of my decision to study abroad. I knew that moving to a country thousands of miles away for four months would undoubtedly result in some homesickness and sadness, especially during holidays.I did not, however, truly comprehend what it would be like to be completely alone without a person in the world with whom to talk. I remember remaining there for some time, completely alone with only my thoughts and the words of Brontë to keep me company. I eventually returned to my apartment that night, but this time with a sound mind.

As lonely and desolate as my life seemed to be, I now fondly look back upon that night with appreciation and gratitude. Despite being alone and separated by thousands of miles from anyone who knew my name or cared about me, those moments of reading and thinking in peace and quiet are some of my most precious memories of Europe. I met many interesting people while traveling and formed many valuable friendships, but the moments of solitude I enjoyed gave me a clearer understanding of my own life and others, and more importantly, a sense of peace.

Solitude is not something which is of particular value to many people today. This is especially true for most college students. Overloaded with social activities and a pressure to be part of a “community,” there is scarcely ever time for most students to read or write or simply think in solitude without any distractions.With the constant business of our lives and endless distractions which arise from our tech-obsessed culture, our minds and souls are separated from the nourishment which reflection and peace bring to them. Community and group involvement are of course essential to any healthy life; by our very nature we long to interact with others. We want to have relationships and to share our thoughts and feelings with those we care about. But living a healthy life is not just learning from others, it also requires reflection and contemplation: a time to process all that we learn and experience.This act is simply not valued in our extremely busy and demanding lives. It is often thought that solitude is for the introverts – a time for those who do not enjoy constantly being around others to regain their confidence and collect their thoughts. I believe that solitude is something we all should allow ourselves to enjoy, for it is exclusively in the quiet moments of contemplation that we can make sense of the chaotic world which surrounds us and perhaps even gain order in our own lives.

Being alone in Prague was strange to me, not only because it was a foreign country with a language I did not know, but because it forced me to take advantage of the time I had alone, to embrace silence and the peace of mind that it brought. Since returning home I have found that it is difficult to have the same kind of opportunity for solitude that I enjoyed in Europe. Life is busy and there always seems to be an endless list of things to do and a million distractions flooding each day. Life is not as lonely as it was that Thanksgiving night in Prague, but it is also not as simple and I find myself being overwhelmed with the world around me, with little time to process my thoughts and actions or my relationships with others. Solitude is often considered a lonely state in which to dwell, but it is not until we allow ourselves to experience it that we realize what we can gain from but a few cherished moments of reflection and peace.