I learned solitude walking on the beach. The cascade and cadence of waves, their repetition gaping and crashing, gaping and crashing, endlessly rolling to shore, I would walk alone with my thoughts and angst and dreams. And I would sometimes wonder where you are, O Lord, even as I might wonder at your presence. Like Jesus with the disciples at the shore, a filament of presence.
I would also hunt for shells. Perfect shells, cowries and olives and scallops. Sand dollars, too, whole ones that would make me feel dollar-richer with each find. It wasn’t until I entered middle age – still a beachcomber – that I noticed the beauty of broken shells. Half shells, shells sanded by time and tide. Conglomerates, too, shells mortared one against another. A friend once heard me mention shells in this way and gave me a conglomerate of oyster shells for my desk, as a reminder that we, too, are beautifully imperfect.
As a reminder that our better selves have been sanded by time and tide. Beautiful shells, those allowing the complexities of life to buffer, temper, and deepen them.
Solitude, Jesus spending forty days alone with both thoughts and demons, taught Jesus what is truly important in life, by the negative. Not wealth nor power nor even religious fervor. No, these are not what connect a human to God and others. It is something else, something longing to emerge from deep within though so often stifled by wealth and power and religious fervor.
Do you know what makes people happiest? Fulfilled? Relationships, of course. Connection. One to another, and one to one’s God. Studies and intuition and even Jesus command to love prove this to be true.
So I wonder, also as part of my walking in solitude, do we seek these others?
Instead of love?