Friday, August 31, 2012

The Value of Loneliness

Before I get to the intended topic of this post, I wanted to share a couple of new observations as the semester starts without me while I am on sabbatical:

On the first day of classes, I came out of the faculty carrel section into the main library, and was enormously surprised to see several students already hard at work at their studies!  They were reading their brand-new textbooks (at least new to them -- some were used copies), well equipped with notepads, post-it notes, and multiple pens, pencils, and highlighters.  I loved their dedication, self-discipline, and enthusiasm!  I hoped they were feeling that special joy I had felt as a student, that thrill of the first plunge into a new subject of study, eager to discover the insights it would bring!

Today I finally finished my annual report for last year.  While it is a very good idea to do this right away when the previous year ends, the Dean's office always promises to get us our course evaluations "as soon as possible" so that they can inform our reflections, and so we wait.  Besides, the deadline is not until September 1.  September 1 approaches, and usually by then we are hard at work getting a new semester going.  Meanwhile, there is still no sign of our course evaluations.  Sometime after September 1, we get another note from the Dean apologizing for this but insisting that we still should have submitted our reports by September 1, and at any rate, we should do so as soon as possible now, really!  And so we finally do, once we are in that golden period between starting the semester and receiving the first batch of Big Grading.  (And often, the course evaluations finally do reach us by then.)

I decided to just go ahead and get mine in on time, to completely reach closure about last year and feel I could enter into sabbatical with nothing more hanging over me.  And it turned out to be good to do this.  First of all, it helped me to see just how much I accomplished last year, and how much I have accomplished in my thirteen years at this university:  I've taught twenty distinct courses, fourteen of which were new to my university; I played a key role in starting a Peace Studies program here, and last year also played a key role in starting a Mediation Center on campus.  (I also noticed that I have participated in over 70 musical performances, about 44 of them on campus.  Although this is not really part of my CV, I do maintain a separate music CV and so I did compile this information, for myself, as I combed through my calendars looking at all of my activities.)

But what I have not accomplished is getting very much of my writing published, although I have in fact written a lot.  And so the second benefit of doing my annual report was to use it as an opportunity to clarify my writing and publishing goals for my sabbatical.

I realize I am blowing my own horn a bit by listing some of my accomplishments, but it is an attempted antidote to the ominous threat of loneliness, self-deprecation, and depression building like storm clouds on the horizon of my soul.  Splendid Opportunity opens up for me, and, keenly aware though I am of how rare and precious this opportunity is, it is distressingly easy for the demons of Self-Doubt to come rushing in to undermine one's great plans for oneself!  Even though I have accomplished what I have accomplished, I can become dangerously down on myself for all that I have NOT done.

And so, as I transition to Sabbatical Proper, I need to cultivate the self-discipline to remember I am worthy (that is, I must not indulge in self-fulfilling fantasies of personal worthlessness), and to give myself full authority to set a clear plan for myself and believe that it is possible for me to get my writing into print.

One of the demons is a kind of loneliness.  In the busyness of the normal semester, at least you are forced to keep in lots of high quality contact with lots of interesting people.  As an introvert, I can become emotionally exhausted by all of that people-contact, but it is at the same time fulfilling, I must confess.  But now I am seeing that even introverts can become lonely.  Writing is a lonely activity!  I have, this week, taken good steps to ensure that I remain connected to people.  So, I do think I will be fine.  I am feeling better now than I did earlier this week.

But here is what I wanted to write about the value of loneliness:  the sacred potential of every interaction with every person becomes much more vividly apparent.

In my normal life, I try always to remember this, but in the press of a busy schedule, it can at times be hard to actually see:  you have to take it on faith (if you remember, that is!).

But in these past few days, it has been blindingly obvious.  I see the flashing lights and colors, and hear the trumpets from heaven heralding the sacred value of each interaction I have had, and I feel melted down by God's love.


  1. I absolutely agree that encounters with other people have sacred value. But these encounters often leave me exhausted. Finding the discipline to stay mindful during these encounters, and then forgiving myself for feeling so tired out and needing to hide when they end (even when they are joyful, as they often are), are part of my reality.

  2. Yes, and not every interaction is a positive one in which the sacred potential is obvious, or easy to real-ize!