Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
Someone recently wrote “Why can’t I just be left alone?” And I felt compelled to respond.
We really can’t be left alone because we need others, and they need us. There’s a balance, whether we like it or not. I’ve always done most things in life alone, including a series of road trips across the country. I eat alone at home, so it’s no big deal to do the same at restaurants, which I rarely go to anyway, and not at all during the pandemic. It’s not necessarily been fun, but as with going to movies I really wanted to see (pre-Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming movies), having no one to accompany me has never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. The best examples are my solo road trips around the country in the 1980s and 1990s. Those were the times I most liked being by myself. Alone on my travels, I actually felt free and liberated from people, and I can tell you that during the 1980s I really wanted to get away from humanity in general. Some people might shake their heads and say, “It must have been awfully lonely.” No, actually it wasn’t. What I had was cherished solitude, and there’s a big difference between solitude and loneliness.
The “normal “ or conventional and biological human existence is to have a spouse, partner, significant other, or simply someone to share one’s life with. To have children and grandchildren. To live on through them. Some of us, however, are unconventional. I didn’t follow the path most people take, not only instinctively, but most importantly because I never felt the desire to be like others and settle down to a conventional life, meeting society’s expectations instead of my own. I’ve always been quite wary of “needing” someone to share my life with. I’ve seen how 50 percent of marriages end up in divorce. I’ve seen how so many people develop relationships of co-dependence with others. I myself have experienced, with terrible consequences, the danger of being sucked into a vortex of other people’s needs, which overpowered my own and sapped my mental strength and free will. This happened because I was a solitary and often lonely kid growing up in a sheltered, middle-class life. Once on my own, I latched onto friends with a need so great that I developed an unhealthy dependence on them. I realized only later how truly lonely I had been when I was growing up, all the way through college..
During the years 1984-94, I bounced around from place to place in a solitary quest to find a new and permanent home. Then, after a period of depression, the Internet came along and changed my life, opening the world to me as it never remotely had been before. The Internet allowed me to finally reach out to many others, whereas before I experienced loneliness at times so intense it was agonizing, because like any other human being, I needed others. But I was essentially alone during those years. I mostly endured in silence and never gave up, and over time I finally began to accept my state in life. I never was one who sought to change who I was deep inside, no matter how much pain I experienced.
I consider 1995 to be the pivotal year when I was freed from depression and began to open up to people in a new job and career where I remained for 21 years until I retired in 2017. There was also no way to continue my solitary life because in 1994 my mother relocated here to her ancestral hometown, and I began, not many years later, the long and necessary process of taking care of her after her diabetes and dementia gradually became much worse after 2000.
As far back as 1979 I was referring to my life as “the single state.” Not just single as in unmarried, but as in “a state of life,” or, a “way of being in the world.” I first really understood that terminology during the years 1980 to 1984 when I was struggling against my inner self to be a good and practicing convert to Catholicism. That failed for predictable reasons, and I left the Catholic Church more than 30 years ago and never looked back. I was however, deeply influenced by certain Catholic writers such as Thomas Merton who spoke of the single life for laypeople as a “vocation.” I also thought of it at the time as a “calling,” but today I think of it as that, plus what I wrote earlier: a state of “being in the world,” the inevitable progression of life from my earliest years. This “state” just works for some people. They are not meant to marry. They are not meant to have partners. Whether this is a good thing or not, I’m not arguing. I’m just stating what I believe to be true.
Now for a year, I’ve been totally alone. I find that I have entered into the final passage of the “single state” in life as I near my 70th birthday. Long ago I quit moaning about not having had someone in my life as a spouse or partner or even companion. To put it bluntly in today’s nomenclature, “It is what it is.” There’s no looking back with regret. Regret for my failings, maybe, but not for for the person I became, who I am.
I’m content with the blessings of solitude, good friends and family, consisting of my brother, sister and her family, and the fact that I’m squarely in the final years of life.
For the first time, now and during the strangely surreal pandemic year 2020, I have arrived at a place of peace and acceptance that could not have been achieved had I lived any other way or in any other “state of life.”
Last updated January 25, 2021