As a child I was generally quite content to spend time alone. Mostly I liked to read, but as a teen I also spent a good deal of time taking solitary walks. I don’t remember thinking of myself as lonely, simply someone who liked to be alone.
In my late teens I made some good friends and discovered I could actually enjoy being with other people as much as or even more than being by myself. I still spent a good deal of my free time alone, but there were times I decided I had had enough of being alone and sought out the company of others.
As a young adult, with a job and an apartment, I was surprised to find myself feeling lonely sometimes. There were evenings I would have loved to have someone call and suggest doing something together. (I didn’t have the nerve to call someone and make such a suggestion myself. I might want to spend time with some friends, but I wasn’t sure they really wanted to spend time with me.)
I remind myself of that when I find myself wishing for more time alone, for more opportunities to sit quietly with only a book and my own thoughts, and no one asking for anything, no TV or video game or computer to break the silence, no dog barking at whatever it is she barks at. I prize the solitude that I do get, but if I were alone all the time I would probably not like it.
So I find myself wondering what life is like for Elsie Eiler, mayor and sole citizen of Monowi, Nebraska. According to this article, she operates a tavern, the only business in town. If she works twelve hours a day serving drinks and food, there must be people coming through. So it’s not like she spends all her time alone.
Yet what would it be like to have no neighbors? I suppose living as the only resident of an incorporated village is not so different from living alone in an unincorporated rural area. But I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where there were people within easy reach if there were some kind of emergency. I don’t like the idea of the nearest “neighbor” being miles away.
My mother was anything but self-sufficient, but I vaguely remember conversations that gave me the impression she thought a person should be able to live alone and not feel a lack of other people to provide either companionship or necessities of life. As much as I like solitude, I’ve never felt a desire for that kind of self-sufficiency.
Perhaps if I had lived in one place long enough, I would want to stay there, even if I was the last one left. But when I think of places I have lived and what I like about them, it’s always the other people, and the groups I belonged to.
I like my solitude, but if I had to choose between solitude and belonging, I would choose belonging.