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Alone but not lonely

| Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, I’ve ended up traveling alone quite a bit recently.

I had never done much solo traveling before, but twice in the past two months, I have taken trips around Europe on my own. I certainly prefer to travel with at least one other person, but overall, I don’t mind being by myself. For an introvert like me, traveling alone presents an interesting paradox that is at once challenging and rewarding. On one hand, I get to spend time by myself, relax and recharge. On the other hand, it forces me to navigate a foreign country by myself, completely reliant on strangers for help.

Over the course of these two trips — one to Prague and Vienna and the other to Budapest last weekend — I’ve gotten better at traveling alone. I’ve gotten better at simply being alone, too. My solo adventures have reaffirmed for me that I really am okay on my own. I think that’s because no matter where or with whom, if anyone, I go, I know that I am never truly alone. Everywhere I travel, everywhere I live and in everything I do, the people I love are right alongside me. And that, in my experience, is how you combat loneliness.

Being alone is a reality that everyone faces sooner or later, and becoming comfortable in solitude is a true and necessary skill we all must learn. It can also be a difficult skill to learn, especially when we are young. I’m still working on it, still getting better at being alone. College campuses can be a comforting community, and Notre Dame prides itself on exactly that. But even in the most inclusive and supportive community, we all have to spend time alone.

In my American Studies thesis class last year, we spent the better part of an hour and fifteen minute meeting discussing strategies for how to thrive on your own. Some work, like the research and composition of a thesis, demands to be done alone. I’m writing this column alone because try as I might, writing is a solitary endeavor, sometimes crushingly so. For the first time in my life, I lived by myself last summer, too. That was the most difficult confrontation with being alone.

In those more challenging times, it’s easy to become cynical about the reality of being alone. Orson Welles purportedly said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Thomas Hobbes was a bit more grim, famously describing life in a “state of nature,” or outside of a structured society and community, as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

I’m a bit more optimistic about being alone, but I still allow for the possibility that the things that make us feel connected are illusory and fleeting. At the end of the day, though, I never feel alone because of the love I have for the people in my life. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I know that my family and friends send their love to me, and it finds me and fills me.

There have been times when I haven’t felt that way, though. It’s taken me almost my whole life up until now to conclude that I am never alone, and I still recognize the moments when I start to feel alone. In those moments, I have to remind myself of the people in my life who are always with me — my mom, my brothers, my girlfriend, my friends, family and especially my dad, watching over me as a personal guardian angel.

So, I suppose my point, if any aside from fleshing out my musings on recent solo travels, is this: even when you are by yourself, and even when you feel completely alone, you are not. I know, that is a cringe-worthy, preachy, high-school-reatreat-y conclusion. I apologize for that, but I still believe it’s true. At the very least, if you’re still reading, I am with you now. I pour myself into everything I write, and by reading this you carry a piece of me with you. If you feel lonely right now, I hope you can take solace in that, at least.

One more time because it’s worth repeating: You’re not alone. You’re never alone.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

Contact Jack