Up Front and Personal

The Positive Side of Solitude

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Most people do not like to be alone. But why? Solitude comes from the Latin, “solus,” meaning alone, connoting seclusion and isolation. Loneliness has an undesirable connotation of being friendless, rejected, forsaken, and forlorn.

Some people embrace solitude, others find it intolerable. Examining its relation to silence and recollection reveals it can be a cherished gift during the pandemic.

Silence means being still, quiet, or at rest, implying composure and poise. There is the saying that only a person who is silent can speak meaningfully. Silence generates interior insight and understanding, prompting us to plumb the depths of our soul, to listen to it attentively to get through life as best as possible.

Life normally revolves around friendliness, helpfulness, being present to one another, and living in community. But what do we bring to these conditions?

Do we really give ourselves to them completely? Or do we concentrate more on self-satisfactions to the neglect of them? How often do we take time out to truly listen to ourselves to learn the answer?

The temptation during COVID-19 is to embrace distractions — anything to fill space and time — and to ignore the power of recollection that unifies our spirit and uses the solidifying strength of contemplation.

Author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote, “We seem so frightened of being alone that we never let it happen. … We choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum.

When the noise stops, there is no inner music to take its place.” Solitude that is caused by COVID-19 is an opportunity for achieving the inner music of which Anne Morrow Lindbergh spoke. It is not an enemy but a friend helping us through a difficult moment.

Father Hemrick is Director of the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood.