Fr. Julián Carrón, who was entrusted with the theme “Faith and Solitude” … [spoke] on this last “elementary experience of man” as sung by Giacomo Leopardi in his Nocturnal Singing of a Wandering Shepherd of Asia and as described by Emily Dickinson: “There is a solitude of space, a solitude of sea, a solitude of death, but these society shall be compared with that profounder site, that polar privacy, a soul admitted to itself, finite infinity”. Because, added Fr. Carrón, “no solitude is comparable to that of a soul in the presence of itself”. As Fr. Giussani stressed, “the sense of impotence accompanies every serious experience of humanity”, therefore “the more aware man is of the immense dimension of his impotence, the more he realizes that that solitude cannot find an answer in us or in others”.
On the other hand, a different perception of lacking is not lacking in human experience, which revels itself as a “marvellous achievement”, as Gaber sang: Loneliness is not madness, it is essential to be in good company”. It has nothing to do, for example, with the anguish that pervades the two orphans of Pascoli’s the homonymous poem, at night. “A tremendous conquest or a marvellous condemnation?”, Carrón asked himself, referring to how Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz. She also spoke of it: “I know two forms of loneliness: one makes me feel terribly unhappy, lost and without direction; the other makes me strong and happy”. The answer, and the difference, is not to be alone or not, but to live a life full of meaning.
A question of attitude, as the words of the psychiatrist Eugenio Borgna, cited by Carrón, recall: “Loneliness and isolation are two radically different ways of living, even if they are often identified. To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us. We are isolated, however, when we close ourselves because others reject us or when, more often, we follow the wake of our own indifference, of a gloomy selfishness that is the effect of an arid and dried up heart. Therefore, it is not a condemnation, because there is no lack of testimonies of how it is possible to live any human situation positively. Journalist Marina Corradi, quoted by Carrón, talks about her “crack”, which at a certain point became “severe depression”: “I read Mounier: “God passes through wounds”, he wrote. It made me think that perhaps my crack, like a hole in a waterproof wall, was a necessary laceration? If I did not exist, who am physically healthy, not poor, lucky, I wouldn’t need anything. That broken wall, that flaw, is a salvation. A torrent of grace, uncontrollable, can enter through it and fertilize the dry and hard land.”
“This is the fight in any circumstance”, explained Carrón: “But for what reason do we want rid of it? Only love for ourselves, because, in fact, even the deepest pain can lead us to discover completely unknown horizons. But, to open ourselves up to this possibility we must look at it with that openness that only man can have”. Provided we do not fall into that current emptiness of meaning, described by psychoanalyst Umberto Galimberti, which does not affect “a particular age, because you can already live old age at the age of twenty,” says Carrón.
In order for loneliness to be “experienced as a positive factor of living”, it is necessary to go through it. In order for it to become “the place where to discover the original companionship”, it is necessary “not to block the need for meaning that dwells in the human “. Starting from the fact that we do not make ourselves, as as Etty Hillesum again testifies: “Inside me there is a very deep source. And in that source there is God. Sometimes I can reach it, more often it is covered with stones and sand: then God is buried. Then we must unearth it again”. “Life is, therefore, expressed, above all, as awareness of the relationship with the one who makes it”, continued Carrón, citing Fr. Giussani’s Religious Sense: “Only in this way can solitude be overcome, in the discovery that we are like love that continually gives itself, that makes me, because there is an Other who wants me to be there. Companionship is in the “I” because we do nothing alone, because we are generated by Him in every moment. Every human friendship, every attempt to respond to this loneliness is a reverberation of the original structure of being, that is, of this original companionship that Another makes us by putting us into the world”.
To be comfortable with being alone with yourself is something like a superpower—an wholesome aloneness not touched by melancholy or despair, but enriched by a splendid sort of isolation that provides us the necessary space to know ourselves by knowing our creator. The first step toward experiencing this comes from silence, which Robert Cardinal Sarah reflects on in “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.”
We all need this sort of solitude, and to develop a capacity for it if it doesn’t come naturally to us. A capacity for solitude is something to be pursued intentionally precisely because it’s a precondition for our capacity to give of ourselves to others.