Next week, I’ll be moving into a friend’s apartment. It’s a good arrangement for both of us, to save money and to drag us out of a bit of a work-to-home social slump we’ve both been in for a while. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m also curious about how it will be. I’ve lived alone for 15 years. They’ve been good years, and I’ve mostly loved it. This is going to be good for me, but it’s going to be very different.
In the car on the way over to her place to borrow some plastic bins for packing, I was listening to NPR and heard an episode of On Being with the poet and philosopher David Whyte. The meat of the conversation centered on the necessary symbiosis between being alone and being with other people, particularly the skill of learning to be alone in order to be able to be fully with another person or people. It was pretty well timed, for me, and I sat in the car to catch the end of it. Whyte recited several of his poems over the course of the conversation. For the most part, I enjoyed the philosophy and discussion more than the poems, but this one has stayed with me.
Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to fright you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the bird
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
by David Whyte
“Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” What a wonderful line.