Some of us love dwell in our inner world. Turning inward has been a challenge for me my entire life. I’ve always turned towards the outer world, even when it was a violent place. Offering my thoughts, feelings and actions to the world around me felt the only possible choice, as though I would be breaking some solemn vow if I withheld even a fraction of my soul. Exploring my past has made something clear to me. It is time for me to experience a new and unfamiliar life. Now is the time to choose what I keep and what I let go of. And maybe its time to risk being hurt again.
Though I am by nature gregarious, extroverted, and exceedingly generous in both my ideas and my actions. But in the past five years I have had a smaller and smaller experience of the world. Fewer people, fewer peers especially, fewer times when the love of friends surrounded me in moments of joy and sadness. I’ve forced myself to turn inward- and I dislike it. The very thought of it makes my spine prickle, my throat clench. I prefer to live out there, in the loud world, where my dark feelings can be lulled to sleep by my racing thoughts and speech.
But loneliness refuses to abate, and so I’ll try to listen to the message from the inside now.
I have struggled over the past five years to reconcile an intense period of loss which spanned 2010-2011. I started it. No one else is to blame. I turned my life upside down and in the process I experienced the loss of all my friendships, save one. This was capped off when my mother died in the spring of 2011— just when I had thought the worst was already behind me. I had not had a happy-go-lucky mother, nor could I say that I was a kind and gentle daughter, but we had forged a bond of hardened love. The two of us knew what it was to love in an unbalanced way, and this made her my last ally as life exploded in 2010. When the loneliness and confusion were drowning me I knew that at least my mother was still there, like a lighthouse who hadn’t had enough attention herself, but continued to shine light through smokey windows, enough to keep my ship from crashing on the sharp rocks of those lugubrious days.
I had no idea that losing my friendships would feel like a series of deaths. I had thought that friendships could weather storms, even big ones. But divorces aren’t just big storms, they are hurricanes wrapped in tornados with volcanoes at their center. I was naive. And then there were no more friendships. And then there was no more Mom.
By spring of 2011 I had cried a cliche-filled river of tears. I had gone months unable to pull myself out of depression. I asked the sky endless lists of questions— why, why, why? and how do I fix it? I bargained with God. I apologized to everyone I knew for everything under the sun.
Finally I sought to make peace with the loss. I just wanted the pain to stop. I stopped pursuing any relationships at all and began accepting my loneliness. But even in the acceptance phase I found only a dull, aching emptiness and only a dubious peace. My inner voice grew quiet, and my creativity became weak and pinched.
During my darker moments I’m still wondering if it is possible for humans to truly connect at all. Or I blame myself, finding fault with my very being, searching for peace at any price. Perhaps, I wonder, it is only me on the outside of the human community… if it is just me then there is at least hope for my children, for the people I love, for the infinity of people I hold in my heart.
When I was a kid my mom had a light blue t-shirt that said “How do porcupines cuddle?
“VERY Carefully!” Who knew my mom was enlightening me on Schopenhauer as a child?!? Schopenhauer’s porcupine dilemma describes where I am now. In brief, Schopenhauer likened the trouble porcupines have keeping warm in a little huddle with the trouble humans all have being intimate. We have to risk in order to be warm, just like the porcupines. We all have different tolerances for being poked, and different internal heat, but none of us is exempt from the need for closeness.
We all have spines- it’s not just me. I want to huddle with the other lovely porcupines, and I don’t mind getting poked, but I haven’t found may way back into the huddle yet.
My hope lies here though: we all have spines. I was mistakenly led to believe that mine are too long, too loud, too strong… but in truth, they are just mine. I need to learn to be gentle, but I also need to believe I have a place in the huddle. I think Mom needed this lesson too, so in her honor— Here I am Other Lovely Porcupines! Tell me your stories, share your warmth and your pain, and I will share mine.