Amidst the merriment of holiday celebrations, we may find ourselves reflecting on the absence of romantic partners who no longer participate in our lives. The intimacy of family gatherings and the fellowship of seasonal festivities throw into painful relief the ghostly contours of those who once toiled alongside us in the victories and disappointments of life but now pursue a separate path. Their absence haunts us, and their intrusion upon the holidays casts long shadows over otherwise joyful occasions.
Reminders of love lost draw us into mediations on our solitude, even as we scurry to and from parties and reconnect with friends and family. We feel once again the gravity of a final voyage beyond borders that we are powerless to cross.
Some degrees of intimacy cannot be recovered or approximated, and the demise of some relationships depletes from the finite reserves of our emotional energies the will to begin anew. Some endings permit of no reprise. After a period of uncommon fertility our soul confronts interminable barrenness. In contrast to what we have lost, the holiday mirth repels us with its fleeting sentimentality and we seek quiet moments to dwell authentically in the solitude that rises deep within.
Yet the crucible of solitude has forged a vast and formidable expanse by which to measure all around us. Only because we have felt so immensely do we sense the shallowness of holiday commercialism. Only because we bear a monument of sorrow do the summits of professional achievement and material possession fall hollow at our feet. Our sorrow grants perspective and establishes proportion, and we move as giants among trivial things.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “Don’t think that the great love which was once granted to you, when you were a boy, has been lost; how can you know whether vast and generous wishes didn’t ripen in you at that time, and purposes by which you are still living today? I believe that that love remains so strong and intense in your memory because it was your first deep aloneness and the first inner work that you did on your life.”
We do our hardest work when, suffering, we locate within ourselves the resiliency to endure. An oceanic solitude born of suffering is a precious commodity – rather than eradicate it from our lives we should embrace and nurture it. Only after mastering the vastness of our solitude are we prepared to bear another’s.
Rilke continues, “And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.”
In suffering, the borders of our solitude branch out farther until one soul encounters another and with infinite gratitude shares the desolation that unites us.