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Inside looking out: The gift of solitude

How many times did he have to tell her?

“Yes, I have plenty of food. Yes, I’ll wear my mask when I go out. No, I don’t need you to come here. Yes, I’ll stay home and be safe.”

Pandemic or no pandemic, Ron told his daughter that living alone for the past eight years meant he knew how to take care of himself.

The problem he had was what should he do? He decided to stop watching the news. What good did it do to know the whole world was infected with disease, and people of his old age have been dying every day? His clock was running down and time was too precious to waste being afraid.

He could call his son in San Diego or check in again with his daughter in Boston, but they were busy with their kids with everyone at home now. Besides, he felt like he was bothering them whenever he called. He remembered somebody telling him and Lori that you don’t own your kids, you just rent them for a while. They move out and move on.

He wished Lori was here. It’s been eight long years since his sweetheart of 52 years had died.

His eyes roamed through titles of the books he had on a shelf until they stopped at “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, some guy who lived by himself for two years near a pond. Johnny’s wife gave him the book after his friend had died from cancer last year.

Ron opened the book to anywhere and started reading under the word, “Solitude.”

“Men say to me, I think you should feel lonesome down there and want to be nearer to folks. I have found no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.”

Johnny used to tell Ron, “You go see your kids and then you can’t wait to come home. When you’re at home, you say don’t like being alone. When I’m in my house and I’m by myself, I’m never alone. My best friend is always with me, and you know who that is?” Johnny laughed. “It’s me!”

After all those years of earning a living and taking care of his family, Ron was tired of feeling sorry for himself. That face in the mirror this morning had asked, “Who are you, Ron?”

He adjusted his glasses and his eyes returned to the book. Henry David said, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are more lonely when we are among men than when we stay in our chambers.”

Ron was pretty much invisible when he was at family parties with the grandkids playing outside and their parents talking shop and sports. He was the dinosaur in the room and was left to be until someone came along to ask, “Did you have enough to eat?”

“Who are you, Ron?” That question flashed into his mind again. It was like Henry David was there forcing the conversation.

Thoreau spoke from the page again. “You tell me that you’re growing old and are troubled to see without your glasses, but this is unimportant if the divine faculty of the seer shows no signs of decay.”

The word “divine” jumped out at Ron. He had not thought much about God, but he did believe the Big Guy put him in the world to be his servant. Ron was born without his asking, to parents without his choosing. Then life was a long road trip moving everyone to somewhere. That was all good, but that road’s been closed for years now. You’re 83 years old and now what? You knew Ron, the husband. You know Ron, the father. You don’t know Ron, the man.

Henry David said, “We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.”

An old man with goals, now that’s not very practical, he thought. Not long term, perhaps, but why not a goal or two for each day? He had wanted to spend time at the lake fishing and enjoying the peace of the water. Tomorrow, he’d grab the brand-new rod and tackle box he was given at Christmas long ago and he’d be at the lake just after sunup.

He thought again about God. In any minute, he might be saying hello to the Big Guy. His younger brother, Tommy, won’t be though. Tommy had been a biology teacher and he said science explains the beginning and the end of life with facts, not faith.

Ron looked down at Henry David, who spoke again. “With all your science, can you tell how it is and whence it is that light comes into the soul?”

He hadn’t seen any light since Lori died. He couldn’t have her back, but he wanted back the light he saw in her eyes. She had told him to live in the moment. Feel the fresh air in the mornings. Cherish the beauty of flowers in the garden. Go outside at night and cast your wonder at the stars.

“What old people say you cannot do, you try to find that you can,” said Henry David. “Yes, I will, Mr. Thoreau,” Ron said aloud. “I’m gonna go for walks in the afternoon. I’m gonna get one of those puppies from the litter next door. I’m gonna ask Mary to go out for lunch. And, by the way, God? I’m asking you to be with me all the way.”

The next morning, he looked at his face in the mirror.

“Who are you, Ron?” asked the face.

“I’m gonna find out, my friend,” he said with a smile. “Sun’s up. Time I get to the lake.”

Rich Strack can be reached at katehep11@gmail.com.