A Lesson in Loneliness

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'Ugh, not again' I mumbled as I vigorously tried to wipe the spilled coffee off my shirt and tie. As usual, I was late for work. I picked up my briefcase and rushed out the door, managing to trip on the coat stand and almost crush my sleeping dog on the way out. The elevator seemed impossibly slow as it stopped on every floor of the apartment building. On top of that, I was receiving odd glances from everyone who got into the elevator. 'Whatever', I thought to myself, 'they probably are looking at the coffee stain on my shirt'.

As I stepped through the revolving glass door, I immediately felt the freezing chill of the winter air crash into my legs. Then it hit me. I wasn't wearing pants. Could this day possibly get any worse? The silent stares and pointing from passersby answered my question. 'Yeah, that's what I thought', I muttered.

On top of looking like a mess, I felt like the universe was once again punishing me for being alone. I was in my mid-thirties and hadn't had a serious relationship since high school. How pathetic was that? The blind dates my sister had been setting me up on were futile attempts at ridding me of my loneliness. I enjoyed my job, but the constant questioning from my colleagues and parents as to how my dates were going was starting to get annoying. Why couldn't I just find someone that could make everyone happy, marry her, and be done with it? Problem solved.

Unfortunately, it was not that simple. Being single at age 35 was not exactly the life I had imagined. My college years of being constantly surrounded by friends and peers at numerous parties and events were behind me. Frankly, I wasn't that much fun to be around anymore. The pressure I felt from everyone in my life was pushing me over the edge. If there was nobody out there so far who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, what was the big deal? Being alone was not a crime, no matter how offensive the idea seemed to my family and friends.

As I stood in the cold a few more seconds contemplating how much I dreaded having to race back up to my apartment to get properly dressed, an old man walked by. He held out a battered coffee cup in his dry, cracked hands. He was, in city terms, a 'hobo'. But this man was different than the others I had passed everyday walking to work. This was the first homeless man I had seen that had seemed truly content with himself. His face was contorted into a huge, genuine smile revealing his broken and decaying teeth. He wore no gloves, hat or coat but looked like the warmest man I'd ever seen.

As I examined him closer I noticed a far-off look in his eyes, realizing that this man must be blind. His walking stick was covered in beautiful blocks of vibrant colors and intricate drawings, intriguing me even more. I stood there in the freezing cold of winter in New York City, staring at this man who exuded pure happiness despite everything in his life that had gone wrong.

'Don't feel sorry for me because I am alone,' the man said quietly. His voice caught me by surprise as it took me a minute to realize that his comment was directed towards me. He reached out to touch my arm, 'As they say, the whole value of solitude depends upon one's self; it may be a sanctuary or a prison, a haven of repose or a place of punishment, a heaven or a hell, as we ourselves make it. And I have chosen the sanctuary. I have chosen the haven of repose. I have chosen the heaven. Don't feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the man who has chosen the prison, the place of punishment, the hell.'

The eloquence and insight this man related as he spoke astonished me. The very tone of this voice and the welcoming smile that stretched across his face despite its coarse appearance instantly made me want to learn more about him. How was this man, who had lived a life ten times harder than mine, so happy and satisfied with being alone? As odd at it sounded, I envied him. He didn't care what people thought of him or what they said he should or shouldn't do. He lived for himself and his own happiness, not for the satisfaction of anyone else.
As my legs started to become numb from the cold winter air, I fumbled in my coat pocket for my wallet and took out a twenty. The man couldn't see what I was giving him but I didn't care. He had changed my life, had completely altered the way I viewed things. The thought that I might live alone until the day that I died no longer bothered me; now it actually seemed like my best option. I no longer felt crazy or weird for being content with isolation. I left this man to his solitude and quiet contemplation and went upstairs to put on some pants.

'Never again will I dread loneliness,' I thought, 'my solitude will be my own sanctuary, my own haven of repose, my own heaven.'





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bestseller12 said...
Dec. 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm
This was a very interesting and intriuging read. I enjoyed how you made a "hobo" the wise man in this story.
 
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