From 2003-2005 I had approximately 3 CDs in the glove compartment of my Volkswagen Jetta.
It was a time when cars still came factory equipped with CD players and tape decks. I was a 21 year old Air Force linguist in training, stationed at the Presidio of Monterey—300 miles away from the City of Angels where I was born and had lived all of my life thus far.
Of the 3 CDs that lived in my car, John Mayer’s Room for Squares got the most road trip play. I’d drive from Monterey to LA on the weekends, blasting “Why Georgia” with the windows rolled down, a messy tangle of unprocessed emotions and bleeding youth.
I am driving up 85 in the
Kind of morning that lasts all afternoon
I’m just stuck inside the gloom
4 more exits to my apartment but
I am tempted to keep the car in drive
And leave it all behind
I didn’t know, at that point, how to truly experience loneliness.
I’d always erred on the side of melancholy in my youth, drawn to the darkness and angst of music, poetry, and art. In my earlier teenage years, Sylvia Plath was my favorite author, Morrissey my favorite musician, sitting alone in my room with candles lit and a journal in my lap my favorite pastime. I’d been heart broken, rejected, disappointed, down—but I’d never been 300 miles away from everyone I’d known and loved.
Being alone was something I knew—solitude a familiar drape around the edges of my burgeoning heart. But loneliness…that was something else altogether. I knew how to be alone, and in that aloneness I found comfort; I didn’t know how to be lonely, nor did I understand the depth of the expansion that would spring from this loneliness.
Those solitary drives up and down the coast, this music erupting from my car speakers and into my soul, the years I spent living away from California, moving place to place and trying to put down roots in each new city—they taught me the subtle differences between loneliness and solitude, and the place where they intersect.
Fourteen years have passed since those lonesome drives in my little Jetta, may she rest in peace. Yet every time I hear a song from that album I’m completely transported to the genesis of my spiritual journey—the loneliness that forced me to uncover the many layers of my internal landscape and learn to get comfortable with uncomfortable feelings.
I’ve moved from coast to coast twice in those 14 years and in that time I’ve experienced both loneliness and solitude, sometimes at once, other times exclusively. I understand that they aren’t mutually inclusive, and that they’re both necessary for different aspects of my growth.
When I’m alone, I’m asked to be still with my own being—to act as my own sanctuary, whole and complete, every moment of solitude a sacred opportunity to uncover another layer of myself.
When I’m lonely, I’m asked to touch the rawness of that emotion, to give myself permission to cry and grieve, to learn to let go and release that which suffocates my soul.
There is value in both of these states of being—opportunities to step more fully into our power by brushing up against the shadows of uncertainty. We are always learning to be our own light, even and especially through being alone.