“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” – Blaise Pascal
Solitude was once my escape.
When life became overwhelming, I would retreat to a lonely corner. Or if I couldn’t physically get away, I would disappear into myself.
There is a profound quiet one finds when turning inward. It’s like being in a dimly lit room, where nothing gets in unless you want it to, and you feel no urge to leave.
I went there often as a child, less so as an adult. That’s because over the past few years, that quiet room has started to crumble. When I go there, I’m not alone. Terrible beasts have broken in and eagerly await my return.
It got to the point last year that I couldn’t bear to be alone. When I was, I found myself in that room, no matter how badly I didn’t want to be.
So I visited friends late into the night, or kept myself busy at work. Anything to avoid solitude, that closest friend turned worst enemy.
The world we live in encourages this sort of behavior. Being still and quiet means you’re being unproductive, which is the greatest of corporate sins.
As a sports writer, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of overworking yourself. This was especially true when I covered Mississippi State from 2008-13. It was nothing to log an 18-hour day, then turn around and put in 12 hours the next day.
I wrote countless words, attended press conferences, traveled all over the South and then some. I was very busy, very productive.
And it almost killed me.
So I took a position as the Journal’s online editor. The hours were better, the workload less daunting. And I found myself returning to that room. It did not go well.
I’d been in a bad wreck three years earlier and spent 18 days in the hospital. I fully recovered physically and I was fine psychologically, but once I had time to find some solitude, PTSD turned up and sent my mind into a tailspin.
Long story short, the PTSD isn’t much of an issue now, but other creatures have taken up residence in my inner room.
They were nowhere to be found last weekend, however. I took a last-minute mini-vacation with a friend to Lake Piomingo, on the Alabama side.
True, I wasn’t alone, but there was plenty of solitude to be found. We were in a small cabin up the hill from the lake, and except for the local wildlife and the occasional buzz of a speedboat, it was quiet.
My friend Brandy and I did a whole lot of nothing. On that Sunday night, we sat on the back porch, which was strung with cheap Christmas lights, and listened to music. Tom Petty, Johnny Cash and Father John Misty serenaded us as a lightning storm eased over the lake.
We talked about music, about failed relationships, about our kids, about work, about death, about God. We watched the old Jack Benny Program on TV. We ate breakfast for lunch.
I visited an old graveyard at dusk, reading names of people who died more than 100 years ago.
For the first time in ages, I felt relaxed – at peace, even.
For the time being, at least, I was able to sit in my quiet room alone.