A few days ago I was wandering around taking photographs at a huge Eucharist being held in the Don Bosco square up the street from the college. It seemed like every Catholic in northeast India had turned out to take communion. The streets were packed.
When I got back to my cottage and downloaded my photos, I noticed that with all the thousands of people in the streets, I had continually focused on solitary souls–or were they lonely?
Because I couldn’t figure it out on my own, I turned to the dictionary to tell me. “You can be in the midst of a crowd of people and still experience loneliness, but not solitude, since you are not physically alone. Similarly, if you enjoy being alone, you can have solitude without loneliness.”
So, since we’re in Shillong surrounded by people, I must assume that it’s lonely people. But what if they don’t mind being alone? Can they be solitary in a city?
“Loneliness, which refers to a lack of companionship and is often associated with unhappiness, should not be confused with solitude, which is the sate of being alone or cut off from all human contact.”
Neither seemed to quite fit. So, I tried synonyms and found: alienation, “a word that suggests a feeling of unrelatedness, especially a feeling of distance from your social or intellectual environment.”
And it hit me. Was I taking photos of my own feelings of alienation? It’s easy to find metaphors when you have a lot of time on your hands.
Shortly after moving back to Susanville a couple years ago, I spoke with one of the Mt. Shasta monks about the overwhelming feelings of loneliness I was experiencing and she answered, “How wonderful! Embrace it. Welcome it. It’s trying to teach you something. Learn from it.”