The stereo is playing “Good Day” this morning, cheerful kids voices hip-hopping the refrain. It is is a bright and airy place, my diner for these three days in Provincetown. Everyone smiles. Everyone. The waiter is a crusty-looking older gentleman who dances to the music. When he is not dancing he has the look and manner of one of the shady characters James Bond would meet in a Turkish Cafe, with the same deep, slightly accented voice. The lady who busses the table is from Hati, a round black lady in pink and blue, short-cropped blonde hair and a megawatt smile. The bartender (Yes, there is a bartender for breakfast, and she seems to be busy.) is Latino. Her girlfriend hangs around the bar and from time to time, they kiss, sweet, chaste little kisses like a pair of fourteen-year-olds, giggling and smiling with each kiss.
I have come to enjoy dining out by myself, in a strange place among strange people. Solitude, with the energy of people. It is a strange and wonderful thing.
You can tell the strangers from the tourists. The locals give everyone a once over. The tourists ignore you. After three days, the locals nod. The waiter becomes chatty. The lady from Haiti talks to me.
I ask her how she came to be here. She laughs “Do you ever read about Hati? Anywhere is better than there. And the people here are nice. No one cares who I am or how I talk or what I wear. I think I will stay here till I die” She waves at the bartender and her girlfriend. She laughs again with that bright smile as she carries dishes away.
Three days. That is how long it takes before solitude becomes something else. Not home exactly, but you are not a stranger exactly, either. The waiter knows I like fake sugar with my coffee. The bartender knows how much I love my wife. I know how she and her girlfriend met.
Three days and the solitude is slipping away.
And that is fine. Rain is coming up the coast. It will be time to head home soon. I feel rested, emptied out. At peace again. I will put the top down on my convertible and drive until the rain finds me. Another form of solitude. Sun. Wind. Miles.
At times, I wonder what it would be like to not just visit solitude, but to live there day in and day out, for years. I do not think it would be good for me. At a certain point, you are emptied out, and like the tide, everything turns. You go from emptying out to filling that empty space yourself. It can too easily turn to brooding, commiserating, negativity, danger. To ourselves. It goes from healing to isolation. And as I say often, isolation is the enemy.
I could spend a few more days here. Wander the beaches, empty and happy. But it would turn. I am an introvert, but people, mostly, ground me. I have lived life in that isolation place, and it ends up eating me from inside, I am ready to go home. I miss my wife. I miss my cats. I miss the people I work with. I miss my congregation.
I am the most fortunate of men. That is what occurs to me during and after my little jaunts to the Cape. I live in a place of love day in and day out, with people I love to be with. And when I am near to overcome, I have the ability and blessing to disappear and be a stranger for a while.
Solitude. Just enough. The perfect recipe,
Be well. Travel wisely,
Often in the process of emptying makes just enough space for authentic connection. Safe travels there and back.
Thanks, Tom– this was lovely. And I’m glad you got some time for some microsolitude. I used to take annual 5 day September solo sail trips on Lake Champlain until we sold our trimaran Seraphim 7 years ago. I need to rediscover that stark rejuvenation.
I hope you find time to do that. It is so important.