Wow, now there’s an unhappy title for a post, but fear not dear readers, this is not some self-pitying cry for attention. I’ve never wanted to add to the impressive pile of negative information generally known as the news and have no intention of starting now. That said, I’m often asked what is the greatest challenge a life constantly on the road presents. For me the answer is simple: loneliness.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other challenges, some of the physical challenges were very intense, a couple could have killed me, but for all their intensity, physical challenges – like those of money, health or food – come head on. The problem is clear
and the solution is usually simple, even if painful. When you’re tired enough, a dry spot beneath a tree actually becomes quite a luxury.
Loneliness is different. Even in prisons rife with physical abuse, forced solitude is considered the severest of punishments. Loneliness is like a gentle trickle that wears away at you only to come crashing down when you’re most vulnerable. It’s a wound that doesn’t heal with time.
Of course I’m not stuck in solitary confinement, but I am normally far from family and friends; I don’t benefit from the company of co-workers or neighbors; and, while I’m lucky to have few responsibilities, I also have few distractions. This last point may sound strange, but work, family and other responsibilities can be mighty shields against the meaninglessness and depression that accompany loneliness. Cathedrals and cafes are pretty swell, but they make poor substitutes for companionship.
So is there some meaning here? Isn’t loneliness just another of life lived on the road, like hunger and cold? Well yes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a purpose. For me none of the challenges of the road – poverty, theft, being lost, lack of direction – are simply burdens to be endured, but rather experiences to be cherished. With the loss of each additional comfort, a little bit of the security of the outside world slips away and the traveler is forced to discover just a bit more of him or herself. I’m not saying that a home and financial security are bad things, I hope to have both in the future, but there’s beauty in stripping away the supports from life and discovering oneself.
For any number of reasons, this autumn has been the loneliest part of my travels. While I can’t claim that I’ve enjoyed the experience, or that it was even voluntary, I can say that out of this solitude I begin to feel a sense of fulfillment. With my attention turned inward, I’ve begun to discover parts of myself long neglected: weaknesses that needed exercise, fears that needed confronting and quiet desires that needed attention. I may not have fully embrace solitude, but I’m learning from it.
I’m not here to complain. In fact, in a way, I’m here to celebrate, because as I look back over the experience of this continuing journey, I begin to see clearly that what I thought were lows were really just opportunities for growth and in the final counting, maybe the most meaningful part of this journey.