Remember that scene from the original Rocky when emotionally stunted Sylvester Stallone invites his equally stunted potential gal Adrienne up the aged steps of his South Philly row home? She’s down on the sidewalk, kind of toeing at the ground trying to decide whether to ascend to this crazy man’s place (where he will eventually introduce her to his turtles, Cuff and Link). He gets angry with her reluctance, slams the wall and says something like, Whatsa matter? Does my house STINK?
I worry about the same damn thing as Rocky. How do you know if your own house stinks if no one else lives there? When I was raising three boys I KNEW my house stunk, they knew it – hell, they were the reason for it – but it was all our own sweat and pizza stench so it was fine. Probably others were bowled over when they walked in the door; we didn’t know, didn’t care. But have you ever walked into the old-lady-with-the-newspapers-and-cat-house and just thought, Holy mother of God!. That’s probably what Adrienne was worried about, and I’m sort of concerned for myself as well.
Listen, I love my solitude. LOVE IT. Growing up in a huge loud Italian household, peace and quiet was not optional and then I raised three boys which was akin to being a zookeeper. Little boys, aside from being reckless and loud, are vaguely odiferous all the time. I mean, you can scrub them in a bath and towel dry them and within seconds something’s marinating right away. Also, I’ve been married a few times to grown-up men who also, well, were guys. At this point I treasure being alone in bed because sleeping with another human is tough, folks, at least for me. Sex, snoring, sweat, hot flashes, restless legs, bad dreams – Geezus! I don’t think I had a full night’s sleep for decades, but I’m starting to worry that I spend too much time by myself and might start babbling in public or not washing my hair. I called a dear friend who has lived alone for a decade, to ask her whether too much solitude can be a bad thing.
“Shut up a minute,” she said, which is a Jersey greeting for, Hey, how’s the family?, “I’m watching this giraffe in the Denver zoo have a baby.”
And, there’s my answer.
“No kidding, there’s like 75,000 people watching right now!” she was so happy, “But many are getting pretty pissed off that every time they sign on there’s no little giraffe feet coming out the mama’s hoo-ha.”
She went on to tell me how people were fighting about this in the comments section. Virtual fighting about a giraffe birth. Is this being social? Or crazy? Who’s crazy – me who sings really loud by myself all the time or “social” people who are angry at a pregnant giraffe?
I was sweating when I hung up the phone, but had no way to gauge how sweaty. Was I smelly sweaty? Another friend of mine is a brilliant woman in the financial industry who’s an expert in all things olfactory because she was born with an acute sense of smell. We went hiking once and she stopped dead at one point, shook her head and said,
“Hey, did you smell that guy’s deodorant?”
I didn’t of course but I was suddenly afraid that she had always been so kind to me because she pitied me. There’s a rule among backpackers when they’re out in the wilderness together for long periods of time: nobody gets clean, period. If just one person “freshens up” it ruins everything for the rest of us, so the protocol on the trail is just stay smelly. I did 17 days in the wilderness with Outward Bound and trust me, no one was clean but that’s a good thing. It’s kind of like the really smart kid who ruins it for the lazy ones.
Aside from group rules around dirt, nobody thinks their own shit stinks and let’s face it we all must live with our own stench. But if you live alone, how do you even know? I guess Nature is crafty, protecting us from ourselves so that we turn a blind nose to our own odors. How could you stand being with yourself otherwise? The same is true for our own faults and character defects – you just don’t grasp them, especially when you live alone. Will I become that old lady with the hot house who screams at the kids git off my grass!!! Will I be Adrienne – Rocky’s mentally challenged girlfriend who works at a pet store for company? Maybe I’ll be Rocky, the cranky fighter dude living alone with his turtles, Cuff and Link.
Here’s the thing: I am never lonely, not for a second. Love surrounds me all the time and my cup overflows. There’s nothing I lack and when I want to connect with a human I make a call or take a walk. Meditation keeps me firmly grounded in the FACT that I’m not alone. It’s a fact. I don’t see boundaries between people (or animals, turtles, giraffes) and I know that I’m totally part of a big happy cosmic soup. But honestly, I just wonder if too much solitude will make me weirder than I already am.
Last week, driving back from Steamboat there was a freak spring storm and the pass was a nightmare. I came upon this accident:
A bunch of us stopped to help but I was the only person on scene who had a smidgen of medical training as an EMT. There were some walking wounded, stumbling around in shock but I went right to the driver whose legs were completely entrapped. He was conscious and breathing and someone had called 911; I knew all I could do was hold his hand and talk to him until those fabulous EMS guys got there. So, I did. He was hyperventilating, because he was terrified and in pain. I was trying to slow his breathing down a bit and keep him calm. I said,
“There’s a bunch of good people here with you. And we’re gonna stay with you. We will not leave you alone.”
And then the miracle happened, the thing I’ve seen hundreds of times when I worked in an ER as a tech. His whole body relaxed. I could feel it and see it. He let out a big sigh and put his head back for a second, only a second. He knew he was not alone and even in that terrible state this fact brought him great relief and comfort. The pain and fear returned quickly but I’ve seen the same thing over and over; people relax in the worst circumstances when they know that they are not alone. We are all in this together and our human nature does not allow us to leave the wounded and the hurt. We’re hard wired to love and help, despite everything you read or see. Check your own feelings the next time you see someone struggle. We help each other, especially the very young, the very old, and the sick. Do not believe what you read.
So, I’m working out the difference between solitude and isolation, being a loner and being lonely, treasuring my privacy (unlike poor Alice, the mama giraffe in the Denver zoo) and building walls to keep other’s out. Adrienne walked up those steps, remember, and went timidly into Rocky’s house, which apparently did NOT stink. She met Cuff and Link and she and Rocky found love which is Hollywood adorable. But I know that love is everywhere, that like an aspen grove we are all connected at the root even though it looks like we live separately. We don’t. I think I’ll stay engaged enough in the world that I won’t spiral into isolation and bad hygiene. My house and my body will be fine, because Love is always in the air. I can smell it.