Friday, August 01, 2008

The Need for Solitude - Gregoire

I have just returned from a cruise to Alaska. It was my in-laws' fortieth anniversary, so my husband and I took them to see the mountains and the glaciers. I'm just back now, but I'm extremely jetlagged, so I hope this makes some sense.

One of the most intriguing things about Alaska is the people who live there. It's quite different from our own north, which is still predominantly aboriginal peoples trying to hold on to their traditional way of life. In Alaska, native peoples comprise a very small minority. Most are people who have moved there because they want to live in the last frontier.

They are adventurers, and the best selling books seem to be about those who have chosen to live in the bush, away from civilization. They build their own cabins, hunt their food, and only have sporadic contact with the outside world.

On the one hand, living in minus fifty degree weather in a cabin you built with your own hands doesn't sound like my idea of fun. But the idea of getting completely away from others, and just being with those you love most, does have an appeal, I must admit. Imagine being somewhere where noone could bother you, or put expectations on you. Imagine being truly alone, where you could choose what to do today, and not be guided by current events or outside pressures.
In every writer I think there's an element of that adventurer, who years for solitude and reflection. It's really hard to finish assignments or come up with something brilliant when the phone keeps ringing and you're supposed to go to this party and do you mind bringing a casserole for the lunch after church?

Many writers do retreat to the solitude. They have a cabin where they write for four months, or another place where others can't reach them. It sounds heavenly. And yet, at the same time, I'm not sure that's really what we're called to. There may be times when we need to be alone with God (Paul, after all, spent fourteen years virtually on his own after his conversion before beginning his missionary journeys), but I do think we are called to be in the world. And if we spend so much time in solitude, how will we have the insights into the challenges of today's world to communicate to others?

This urge to escape is probably something all of us have felt. And yet I don't think we should let ourselves be too wooed by it. Take a weekend every now and then; even a week if you need it. But let's live in the real world. Let's make those potluck casseroles and battle the laundry and call the repairman for the furnace.

When I need to write, I go to the library. At least my phone can't reach me! But I'm never that far away. I think we need others to keep us grounded, and to give us new insights into the things we're writing about. I'd love my own cabin, and maybe one day I'll have a place where I can write in solitude. But I hope I never give up on real life for too long. That's where we really live out our faith. And we need that challenge.

Sheila is the author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. She speaks to women's groups around the country. You can usually find her at home homeschooling her two daughters. And knitting. Preferably simultaneously. She blogs at To Love, Honor and Vacuum.

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