Solitude

creek

To muse o’er flood and fell

Solitude – Lord George Gordon Byron

To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene,
Where things that own not man’s dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne’er or rarely been;
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock that never needs a fold;
Alone o’er steeps and foaming falls to lean;
This is not solitude, ’tis but to hold
Converse with Nature’s charms, and view her stores unrolled.

But midst the crowd, the hurry, the shock of men,
To hear, to see, to feel and to possess,
And roam alone, the world’s tired denizen,
With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!
None that, with kindred consciousness endued,
If we were not, would seem to smile the less
Of all the flattered, followed, sought and sued;
This is to be alone; this, this is solitude!

I seem to recycle this poem in a post every few years. It started in high school. But I kind of hated English back then because uh, how do we know what the poets were on about? Life experience, the teacher replied. We laughed and rolled our eyes. Well, yeah, years later how familiar I am with being alone but delighted with nature’s charms (like when I took this photo!) and how keenly too, have I felt solitude midst the hustle and bustle.

Especially since mum has been sick. Wow, what an incredibly isolating road. Whatever we like to think of our relationships, much of it seems to come down to physical proximity (Tinder and Happn got it right) and being at similar life stages. Over the years my closest friends, and those I’ve kept in contact with, are almost always people I’ve lived with. And what I mean by life stages is that my friends naturally concern themselves with training programs and careers, dating and marriage, real estate and travels. Not caring for children or dealing with terminal illness, yet. When changes create jarring differences between your priorities and routines and theirs, close friends aren’t as close as you think. 

Drifting between cities doesn’t help. First Sunday at the church – oh that’s good, the pastor nodded absentmindedly as I gave a brief response to the inevitable question about my “holidays”. Oh well I doubt it was intentional and he’s hardly the only one. No, I’m not perpetually on holidays but I’m sure if I was those around me would engage in more of a conversation. It’s a little disappointing and hurtful – do our daily lives appear too normal for those around us to ask about the chaos? Are young adults, myself included, too preoccupied with our own stuff? Am I too withdrawn? Don’t know what to say? I guess there could be a million other reasons too.

Friends are fickle, especially when you’re in a pickle. That’s my attempt at a rhyme and alright, I admit, not entirely true. Some are incredibly generous (though mostly mum’s friends and older church folks) and others are surprisingly understanding. Our heartfelt thanks for kind words and prayers, and help with school runs, play dates, meals and more.

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3 Comments

  1. Occasionally, I do feel like I’m too preoccupied with my ‘pattern’ to spend more time with friends in need. We go through the motion of what a modern young professional is expected to be doing at work, at home, in their love life etc. Even when things are good, I sometimes imagine just completely restarting my life anyway. Move to a different city/country. Work in a different industry/field. Reinvent myself. I’m not suggesting this is an option or that you might want this; I just find these moments of mental escapism therapeutic when faced with a busy schedule and growing expectations from every which way.

    I can’t pretend to fully empathise with your situation, but I do care a lot. I don’t inquire too much or too deeply because a) I can’t really offer much in terms of practical help from where I am, and b) I don’t feel it’s my place to get involved as I’m only a friend in another state, and c) my parents tells me most of the developments anyway

    Lots of people in our generation will have this non-involvement attitude you described to some degree. We assume that if you really need extra help or support you’ll ask for it (or have a breakdown or something), and that surely your family/relatives/significant other would be the most helpful/responsible, which is why we largely sympathise from a distance, or assume you’ve got it under control.

    Things like Social media also don’t help this because it’s trained us to have moments of emotion for bad news, but not have the heart to follow up the situation beyond pressing the ‘share’ button and leaving one comment. Lots of people were making a big deal about the Paris terrorist attacks during that weekend it unraveled, but they all got ‘tired’ of hearing about the next 6 attacks that occurred in Turkey, Iraq, Brussels, Pakistan etc. and just moved on with their own lives; after all, it never affected them personally in the first place. This mentality is probably similar to how young people deal with friends/acquaintances having illnesses/problems that span more than a few weeks to resolve. They want to care symbolically, but not substantially.

    Having said that, in a very strange way, I think that if there is any time in our lives to face a ‘disruption’ like this, right now is close to ideal. We are old enough and experienced enough to appreciate the severity and consequences of the developing situation, but young and sufficiently uncommitted enough that we don’t have to juggle as many things (e.g. our own family, an advancing career, mortgages). By having these new, non-standard responsibilities thrust upon us at this stage of life, it can shape our resilience and preparedness for future situations, especially when we might be playing a different character in the next drama.

    Anyway I’ve blabbered on enough. Stay strong, and if you need somewhere to drop off your younger quackling for a quick break from surrogate-mothering, I think my family would be happy to have her stay with us (though she’d have to fly down). I’ll make sure to curfew her iPad usage in that case!

    And as always, I’m all ears if you want to talk more in a less public space :)

    Reply

    1. I’m sure she’ll think you’re all cool with the Anime / Minecraft / YouTube knowledge haha. She was having a good conversation with Andros about FMA and other ones I had never heard of. But the younger but not shorter quackling is actually with mum and dad for Easter and I’ll be joining them soon.

      I think I’d have probably done the same in terms of being busy with my own life and not being too involved with other people’s difficulties so it’s understandable. But also a lesson learnt for me.

      I agree with what you say about the culture of social media / caring symbolically but not substantially. One of my friends was telling me how when her brother died it was like everyone knew and talked about it to one another, but it was almost like they were gossiping because very few approached her directly or were there to support her. That’s another lesson learnt I suppose, for next time if the roles were reversed between my friends and I.

      As for asking for help… maybe I don’t know how or what to ask and subconsciously I always feel reluctant to bother people. An elder at church asked when I went down with mum whether I knew people in the congregation that I could contact for help if I needed to. I said yes, probably a bit hesitantly. He looked at me and asked, “but would you ask them if you needed to?” I thought aha what an insightful person!

      Reply

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