Today is the third day of Lent — the forty non-Sunday days before Easter. For me, it is a period of intentional time dedicated to introspection and reflection. Like the silent, contemplative walks that I’ve recently enjoyed with my companion, I find a surprising amplification of this seemingly solitary practice when I am aware of the millions of people around the world who are similarly-focused.
This year, the United Methodist Church that I attend invited us to a Lenten practice of focusing together on one pre-determined word for each of the forty days. We were encouraged to share a photograph on social media each day that speaks to us of the word for that day. Eureka! As someone who has struggled for months trying to develop a daily discipline and rhythm of writing, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I welcomed this opportunity to not only think about a visual image to represent the ‘word of the day’ but to also form a daily practice of writing about it. .
Today’s word is: ALONE. Admittedly, my first, visceral reaction was, well, “Yuck.” As someone who has been alone for nearly 2 1/2 years after being widowed, I winced at the word. Sure, I have a plethora of family, friends and a faith community that often fills my days. And I also spend a good portion of my time alone. ALONE. It carries a certain sadness in its five combined letters, doesn’t it? I can think of plenty of other words that I’d much rather focus on.
But here it is. ALONE. Okay, let’s give this a go.
As I sit in ALONE, reflect on ALONE, let ALONE wash over and seep into myself, I feel an unexpected lighten-ing within. I’m alone as I write this post. And, aside from the whirling sound of my washing machine as it enters the spin cycle downstairs, it is quiet. I am dry. I am warm. I am neither hungry nor thirsty. My heartbeat and breathing slow. I am calm.
I begin to wonder how many people at this very moment are in a place that is not at all quiet? How many people right now are not dry nor warm? How many are both hungry and thirsty? How many in a state of turmoil? How many would love to have a washing machine with a spin cycle? I feel them. Somehow, in this moment, I see them. I sense oneness with them, though our present circumstances couldn’t be more different.
In the confines of this house, with its roof and walls, sure, I’m alone. And yet, I can hear my next-door neighbor’s dog barking. I know that there are other people who are home right now in my neighborhood.
I wonder: Is there some arbitrarily-defined distance between one living being and another that somehow constitutes aloneness?
I often visualize a metaphorical river that runs beneath all things. A river of life. And all of us – people, animals, plants, insects, sea creatures, and organisms – have metaphorical roots that tap into the very same water source. I look up the word origin of ALONE on Dictionary.com and am stunned by the obvious. ALONE comes from the Middle English ‘al – one’; all (wholly) one.
Suddenly, my initial reaction of “Yuck” to the word, ALONE has been turned on its head. I am really not ALONE. You are really not ALONE. And yet, we are all (wholly) one – connected by the same river-waters into which our roots plunge. ALONE. It’s a great word!
“Then how can it be said I am alone
When all the world is here to look on me?”
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream