In Praise Of Solitude

Empty school classroom
I love my family. I miss them when I'm not with them. Now that I've said those things, there's absolutely no reason for any of you to e-mail me, chastising me for supposedly being ungrateful at having a wonderful family. I'm grateful. I appreciate them. I know I'm lucky. But I also think it's time we all admitted that sometimes it's nice to be alone. It's time for us to come out of that closet — the closet whose floor we dump our clothes on when nobody else is around.

Both of my kids are off at college, so when my wife went out of town for a week recently, I was all alone. Sure, there were times when I was lonely, but — am I a bad person for saying this? — there were times when it was bliss.

When many of us find ourselves suddenly having the house to ourselves, we react like kids whose parents are out of town. One friend of mine turns on really loud music and thinks about smoking a cigarette, even though she doesn't smoke. I enjoyed doing scandalously rebellious things like leaving my dresser drawers just a little bit open, and having two different TVs on at the same time. I ate cereal in bed, and there was nobody there to tell me that I was probably going to spill it all over the covers. If I felt like going to a movie instead of eating dinner, I went to the movie. If I didn't feel like washing dishes for a couple of days, I didn't. (I discovered, however, that for some strange reason, they're a bit harder to wash after a couple of days.)

There was also a very pleasant silence that permeated the house. I understand why yogis and others derive so much from meditation. I no longer think those people who take a vow of silence one day a week are wackos. There was definitely something spiritual about not talking and not hearing others talk for hours at a time.

Short-term solitude works when you travel, too. It's nice to share travel experiences with those you love, but once in a while, traveling alone can be great. First of all, when you walk through the airport, you actually have one hand free. You can go into the airport store and buy two Advil for three dollars, and nobody says, "Are you crazy?" When you get to the hotel, you can stay in the first room they give you. You don't have to move because it's too close to the elevator or too hot or too cold. And the big bonus is you don't have to start talking about where you're going to go to dinner while you're finishing breakfast. You'll find a place to eat when you're hungry.

Again, I'd hate to be alone for a significant amount of time, but I definitely recommend it to everyone once in while. When you reach the last day of your "alone time," you'll probably become aware of just how much you miss the people you're alone from. That's another benefit of this experience — it makes you appreciate the people you're usually around.

But I didn't have much time to wallow in those feelings on the last day. I was too busy picking up seven days' worth of sports sections from various rooms, trying to remember where I put all those phone messages, and wondering what's the best way to remove dried bran flakes from a hundred-year-old quilt.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver