As someone who is both an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I thoroughly enjoy and often crave being alone. Not because I am shy or unsocial, but because I thrive on company that is deep, enriching, and radiant. Company that, if mindfully absorbed, can only be handled in doses.
In coming to understand, accept, and even cherish this atypical part of myself, I have thought quite a bit about what it means to be alone, and the good and bad of a solitary lifestyle. Most recently—like since the day before yesterday—I have been rethinking how I might refer to my aloneness. And it all began with a moment, a reflection, and a spark.
The other day, my grandfather and I were sitting on a bench in Yerba Buena Gardens, watching many lives unfold before us. As I write this, my grandfather and I are on the homestretch of a three-week road trip to all of the places he has lived or has history in the United States. One of these places was San Francisco, California, where he served in the Navy. Eventually, the woman beside me on the bench engaged in conversation. We discussed all kinds of things—namely travel—and she excitedly told us about her recent yearlong sabbatical, a time in which she traveled to Mexico, Spain, the UK, Ireland, and beyond. As someone who loves to travel alone, I was curious to know if she had embarked on this adventure by herself. But as I uttered the question, something felt strange about the word “alone.”
It felt inferior, it felt desolate, it felt unappealing.
Instantly, I recalled a magical moment nearly three years ago. It was New Year’s Eve and my husband and I had gone our separate ways a couple weeks prior. That night, I would be flying to Hawaii to spend time with my youngest sister who was stationed there in the military. Before leaving town, I dined at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants for the last time. All my life, I have been content in traveling, exploring, and dining by myself. But that night, as I walked into the restaurant, I felt truly alone for the first time ever. Despite the differences my former husband and I had, he was still a companion, and when I wandered by myself, he resembled the comforts of home. When the hostess asked me how many were in the party, I responded, “Just one.” She paused and said, “No, not just one,” and then raised her fist with empowerment and said, “But one.” Her words were pivotal for me, and at a time when I needed it most.
So in that moment of strangeness on the bench, layered with my reflection on the power of one, there was a spark. No longer will I say that I am alone; for this word—distorted by perception—does not represent the creativity, introspection, and freedom I feel in solitude. Rather, I will say that I am traveling solo, or that I am living independently, or that I am dining with myself. For should our own company not be worth celebrating?