I have a particular childhood memory that leaps forth from the realms of my usually silent recollections at times of irony. It is this: peering through the family car’s window at a man who was bald, shiny and intent as he walked along alone. Quite suddenly, a terror, as vivid as it was irrational, scalded my insides.
‘Never will I be like that man,’ I assured myself. ‘I will never be alone.’
Needless to say, I was wrong.
I should probably mention that the time is currently 02:47, and I am sat in departures in Gatwick airport having just contentedly consumed an entire packet of veggie ham (of course I am now veggie as I am fresh and glowing from my gap yaar). I just spent an hour trying to find security, which I eventually deciphered via the kindly cleaner did not open for another hour. I am also growing to regret choosing the 05:50 flight to Budapest in order to save £20. (In case you are curious as to why I am departing merry England so soon after having been vomited back into it by Turkish airlines, it is because I find Chichester a bit oppressive, and have concluded that the best means of dealing with my late-adolescent dilemmas is to RUN AWAY from them).
Anyway, I digress. In summary, I am quite tired and may not be thinking straight. Perhaps the memory I described is nothing more than a mental allegorical fabrication. As in, our family car’s window represents security from the scary reality of bald shiny aloneness.
It is aloneness that I wish to explore. Let us commence with everyone’s worst form of it: loneliness.
I can all too easily criticise Chichester, but for all of its superficial flaws, I know that living there spores me a world of privilege. My dislike for it is mainly arisen from my memories of having felt lonely there. Even if life is different now, loneliness leaves a dark and sour taste in your mouth. I have watched loneliness ignite a hysteria that makes people lunge towards others as though thirsty for some – any – intimacy, even if the result is feigned and tokenistic. I have seen it kiss the lips of good people, until they feel so smothered by it that they renounce their goodness, and instead embrace loneliness’ residue of spite. I have watched it rot the minds of the elderly, who once danced and teased and had youth in their eyes and legs. It is as foul a disease as it is common.
I maintain that it is revived over and over by social media. My loneliness blues declined as soon as Instagram was banished from my life. I could scribe an entire blog post preaching about why you should do this (wink emoji, stay tuned friends) for your own wellbeing. A message to avid social media users: please remember to practice conscientious posting. I am unsure as to who benefits from endless party snaps showcasing your marvelous sociability.
Take, for example, a girl who gatecrashed a party I had with my brother. This girl and I quite openly do not get on, but I had not the time nor energy to argue with her and thus there she remained, outrageous audacity intact. What made me shudder, however, was that the next day, social media presented me with her gleaming photograph amongst a larger group of (unwanted/uninvited/quite desperate) people at the party. No mention – shock- of the fact that no one had requested their presence. But to onlookers who were not in the know, this virtual happiness may have grazed them. They may have pondered the fact that they were not invited to a party that night. They were not surrounded by a group of friends; they may in fact have been alone. Perhaps this girl’s lonely breed of clinging and fantastical popularity simply bred loneliness in others. What a selfish and lonely act.
My next point is a little different. I think that we need to identify that not everyone who lacks someone beside them, needs someone beside them. I used to feel an intense and condescending pity for those who I saw sitting alone in restaurants. After all, who really wishes to eat alone? As it so prevails, me. This is at least partially due to the fact that I am a hideous eater. Sincerest apologies to anyone who has ever had to endure observing me use cutlery. Nonetheless, there is something liberating about the ability to succumb to independence, since it is often thrust upon us in times when we are reluctant to accept it. Anyone who has ever felt different – which is probably everyone – will identify with the unpleasant notion of having been displaced from the majority. But fear not; although the process is exhausting, independence can render victimisation a gift. One can learn to adapt, give in to aloneness, sit in solace with one’s own flourishing and personal sentiments.
I view independence as a virtue because so many people are so reliant on being with someone. How wonderful to know yourself to the extent that you do not NEED to be with someone. In my opinion, intimacy of any kind is most gorgeous when you are not united out of a need of one another, but rather out of a desire for it. I am not suggesting that you should strut around denouncing all potential friends or partners in the name of independence, but that you will never be compatible with everyone. If you do not dread time without someone, then there is less urgency to simulate connections. You can await something woven with the fabric of sweet genuity.
Sidenote – you probably will be judged for choosing this oh-so-righteous path; refer to the comments section of Hannah Witton’s video ‘The Truth about being Single’ for verification. But, you frigid bitch, you will be titled a slut for doing the opposite anyhow, so choose a path that suits you since chances are you will be slagged off either way.
I would like to think that I have learned a lot from my voyages this year. I love so many people. On this day, I am unequivocally blessed with people I love and who love me. And perhaps that makes sitting alone in a hostel bed in Budapest the easiest thing. I have made the CHOICE to be alone. Companionship comes in the form of my pleasures, my anxieties and my hopes. As much as I adore the fact that the majority of my life is wreathed with fellow humans, attaining self-contentedness has granted moments that I shall forever cherish. Once upon a time there was a bald man who scared me in a car. I am not afraid of him anymore.
Here are some moments and people that graced my life when I was ‘alone’ over the past few months, that I will remember always.
Making a wonderful friend in Indonesia who (thankfully) could ride a motorcycle. We rode around hidden beaches in Bali on our Barbie bike.
SERC School in Kathmandu
I volunteered for a week at a special needs school in Nepal. It was a bit of a shock seeing the differing health and safety standards (or lack thereof) but I met some incredible children.
The little boy on the left had cerebral palsy; he was determined to use his book to learn English by pointing at items and pronouncing news words. I have never worked with a child with such stiff joints. At his request, I had to force his arm toward the book, which was so difficult to do that it felt like I was hurting him (I checked, I wasn’t). His English was great but he pronounced ‘f’ as ‘b’ which I tried to work on with him. Next to him is his best friend.
The little girl pictured was very badly behaved in class, and when she didn’t get sufficient attention would circulate the room hitting people whose unassuming playing irritated her. I tried distracting her by holding her hands and dancing with her, when a little boy with autism came and tried to dance with us. I thought that this would end disastrously since little boys with autism seemed to be her primary hitting victims, but instead they seperated from me and started dancing calmly and silently together.
A lovely girl that I worked with one afternoon.
Wandering around the Kathmandu suburbs
I was about to get dinner when music started blaring in the square, and a group of salsa dancers started dancing across it. Lots of families joined in (note the father/son duo on the left).
I met Paula who is my age, and is cycling (CYCLING) solo across Europe, staying in remote campsites along the way. On our first night out I was whining that I was tired from the flight, and she said that she had just cycled 80km with her tent and possessions, after which I felt quite unimpressive. Here is her with a bike to illustrate my point.
Last but by no means least, the historical buildings lit up at night time. You have probably seen endless Instagrams of this, but I could not believe how beautiful the building was with birds flying atop it like fairies.