~ Alone With Everybody ~
Back alone in my chamber of solitude once again: the small bedroom in my apartment with only a bed, a backpack, a set of drawers and a looming sense of existential dread that now filled every crack, crevice and dark, cobwebbed corner.
I sat in silence on my bed and looked around at my surrounding lair. On the walls sat some photos of my travels out in the world – good times with people who were now out of sight, some of them no doubt also sitting alone in a small apartment room in somewhere on planet earth. I also had my laptop beside me from where I been pouring the contents of my mind onto a blank page never to be read by anyone except a few random strangers on the internet. It was an act of release and many words had been typed the last few days. Whenever I felt most starved for human interaction, I often found my fingertips scratching and clawing at keyboard keys in a desperate attempt to reach another out there in the wilderness. I sent my words out into hyperspace like a flare of my own madness, hoping to attract another one of my kind roaming somewhere in the far reaches of human civilisation. Sometimes people responded, but still I was left stranded in front of a keyboard, staring into a screen with nothing to do except to keep on typing more words onto that all-too familiar blank page.
In a moment of realisation, it struck me how alone I was. My head spun around and I felt like I was stranded faraway on another planet in another galaxy; I felt like I was stuck in some kind of void of nothingness where no person, animal or god could reach me. It was true that normally I sought solitude for a decent amount of time in my everyday life – my introverted mind demanded it – but like most things there was a limit to it all: a boundary where a real danger of genuine insanity lingered on the other side. Us humans were inherently social creatures who needed some kind of occasional interaction to stay sane, however despite a few electronic messages across that virtual wilderness of the internet, it had been almost a week without any significant form of human contact. Consequently I could feel the walls around me closing in; I could my own aching isolation eating me alive from within. Before I was consumed totally, I crawled out of my lair and ventured up to the roof of the apartment block to get some fresh air – that was usually one thing which I could rely on to help clear my mind when the storm inside got too fierce.
I climbed up the stairs and reached the rooftop. I opened the door and ventured over to the edge where I stood and stared out at the surrounding city landscape. There it all was sprawled out before me: the concrete jungle in all its chaos and madness and urban sadness. From the edge of that roof I looked out at the mazy streets; I looked out at the houses with their windows all illuminated like Christmas tree lights; I looked out at the parks and the bars and the restaurants where so many couples would be dining together in love and companionship. I thought being out the room would do me good, but the sight of civilisation only made me feel worse. It just didn’t seem to make any sense. How could loneliness exist when thousands of people surrounded you? How could we be so close but so far away at the same time? And how did it all end up like this? What had gone wrong in our species for us to develop technologically but not as beings capable of true connection and community for all?
Alone as I was, I looked out at that city and knew that there were others far worse off than I. Often in my life I spent large amounts of time travelling in foreign lands with fellow wanderers, but I knew how many souls out there were constantly dwelling in lives of inescapable loneliness and isolation year after year. The homeless people. The old people. The disabled. The alcoholics and drug addicts. The depressed and the anxious. Even on the apartment block below my feet, I wondered how many people were sat alone scrolling on their phones, desperately aching in their flesh and bones for just some basic form of human interaction. What made it worse that so many other souls close to them but separately by some shoddy walls. It was a strange situation. The thought of it made my mind wonder with possibility. Maybe there was someone like me sleeping just a few metres away in a vertical or horizontal direction? Maybe the girl of my dreams was just a few rooms away? Maybe there was a chance? A chance to connect with someone or something?
The more I thought about it, the more absurd it all seemed – the scenario of being so united yet so separated simultaneously – of being together under one roof but segregated alone in private rooms of darkness and isolation. It seemed that our society at its core was constantly stuck in that apartment block where everyone was so close and so far away at the same time. It was just innate of our species in the modern world of hectic cities and so-called civilisation. Everyday we were separated into offices, into cubicles, into traffic lanes, supermarket queues and apartment blocks. And not just physically; the strongest and most rigid barriers of separation were usually lined up within people’s skulls. If it wasn’t religion, race or social class, then it was that people put barriers up because they were simply sick of or scared of each another – of what people would say and do and the sudden sight of their unfiltered souls was revealed to the crowd. Mostly that fear was justified; people often didn’t react well to seeing the gritty contents of someone’s genuine self. In a society where superficiality and conformity called the shots, such an uncombed sight often caused people to be rejected, hated and sometimes even murdered depending on the culture. Because of this we kept the mask on in the crowd and let our true thoughts linger in the dark apartment rooms inside our skulls where our deepest secrets and desires lay gathering cobwebs and dust in dark, forgotten corners.
I thought back to when I myself had shared the contents of my heart with the crowd. The times I had opened up myself up to others I had been rejected and cast out from the group; I had been looked at like an utter madman and a lunatic. There were a few who delighted in what they saw, but mostly people were concerned, disinterested or even resentful towards me. Over time I came to the conclusion that generally people didn’t want the raw and rugged face of someone’s true self. Such an image was an unwelcome sight and instead so many wanted lives dressed up in pretty fonts and filters; they wanted people pretending on social media that their lives were wonderful and great; they wanted people insincerely asking people how they were before giving the generic ‘yeah okay you?’ response. At the very core of it, it just seemed the majority of people had no time for anything that wasn’t clean and polished. It was just more convenient for us all I guess. I would have liked to think that I was as open as possible to another soul, but I also knew there were times where I too had distanced myself from someone trying to connect with me at a deeper level. Like most people in these cities, I was overcome with a fear that left us afraid and unwilling to let someone slip under the walls we put up inside our own minds.
Such a nature lead to the loneliness that afflicted so many dwelling in towns and cities and apartment blocks far and wide across the world. Right now throughout the urban landscape that lay before me I knew that people sat alone in rooms watching the clock tick slowly towards their death; I knew some already had died alone and were waiting to be found in an old house no one ever visited. Elsewhere some of those in the peak of their youth scrolled through internet forums and blogs hoping that there were others like them somewhere out there in the chaotic mess of society. Throughout our modern civilisation were so many lost souls dwelling alone, starving, dying, decaying in modern isolated lives of sedentary comfort but spiritual pain. They were the lives where people had followers but no friends; the lives where people’s greatest moment of connection was being served by the cashier at the supermarket; the lives where people screamed out through bloodshot eyes and internet blogs because their physical voices had been silenced out of fear of judgement from the crowd.
Looking out at the convoluted mess of houses, streets and apartment blocks, the thought hit me that perhaps we had just simple gone too far? Humans who once lived in close-knit tribes on the plains of the wild were now living in gigantic, industrial cities where underground tubes transported us robotically around like electrons around a circuit-board. One could sit in a tube of fifty silent people and watch everyone look away from each other’s eyes and down to phones, floors and newspapers. It was a strange situation: the more the population continued to grow, the more separated we seemed to all become as individuals. Often the moments when the loneliness hit you greatest was when you were sat on those packed tubes, or stood in the crowds that momentarily formed at the traffic lights, or waiting in a long queue at the supermarket. There you’d stand and look around at that sea of faces, scanning and searching the eyes for another of your kind, yet you would always end up sailing on alone back to your dark apartment room. I guess I speak for myself mainly here of course, but I am sure for many other souls dwelling somewhere out there within the concrete wilderness too.
Thinking back to my travels, it struck me that the greatest moments of connection I had with another human were usually with complete and total strangers out hiking a mountain trail in foreign lands. Whenever you were out on that trail, all the barriers and shoddy walls of society disappeared. Being in nature without the crowd surrounding and suffocating you allowed our true nature to shine as individuals. Amongst the hills and lack of civilisation was a haven for the soul – a paradise of mental freedom where the social masks could be tossed away into a ditch and we could finally just be ourselves in all our gritty messiness and madness.
I recalled hiking in the French Alps with a young Israeli guy in the summer of the previous year. I was walking towards a mountain pass when I came across him sat on a rock in the shade eating some nuts. After asking if I wanted some, we began walking together toward the pass. While walking it quickly became apparent we were of different cultures, of a different theological belief, and of a different age – yet none of those things mattered on the trail. Instead of distancing ourselves, we spoke from the heart about what lead us to travel; we shared our hopes and aspirations for life; we cooked and shared food with each other in the shadow of the mountain. As we continued walking we met other hikers including an American girl and an old English nomad who lived in his campervan. Again, despite all our obvious differences in backgrounds and demographic, there was nothing but community and connection between us all. We sat around our campsite at sundown eating dinner, drinking wine and discussing life, adventure and philosophy. We looked into each other’s eyes and spoke freely from the heart with no shoddy walls to separate us. It felt good; it felt strangely like how it should have been.
But those times on the trail were a long way away I realised as I stood alone on that rooftop edge in the middle of the concrete jungle, hearing a distant siren wail out into the night – the sound of another ambulance on its way to retrieve another life which had ended. The mountains of freedom were out of sight and I was back on the stage of society where masks had to be worn, scripts had to be recited and anyone who deviated from social convention or normality was seen as an outcast or a hippy or simply crazy. Thinking about the absurdity of it, I looked up to the skies above, staring out into the few visible stars shining through the light pollution, dreaming of something ineffable – some kind of home that I could never seem to find for any more than a short period of time here on planet earth.
Eventually I decided to retreat back down to my lair to pour all my thoughts onto that blank page yet again. Enough air had been breathed in for now. I crawled back down the stairs, entered my apartment and sat in solitude before a computer screen, sending out that flare of my mind’s madness via some some words typed on a grubby keyboard. A raised voice shouted out from the room beside me and I knew I was back where I belonged: in my small space, cornered by society, alone in the dark, my mind filled with madness as my fingers scratched and clawed at those keyboards once more.
If this is to be my continual fate and someone does happen to find me one day in this apartment room as another old person who watched that clock tick slowly towards their death, know that I truly wanted to connect with you all like I did with those people on that trail. Here in this society there are just some shoddy walls in my skull and yours that I can’t knock down. Hopefully these words at least let you know that behind my social mask was somebody who wanted to unite, but was too consumed by a society and system that lead me pour these words onto this page. I am alone with you all, lost in a concrete jungle, afflicted by the human condition, floating through space on this rock towards an unknown abyss. If these words don’t help anyone else out there, at least they helped me momentarily escape this dark room. If these words don’t help anyone else out there, at least they let my heart sing out in all its truth – if only for a brief moment – the spirit bird fluttering free in the sky before returning to its rusty cage of isolation and separation and segregation.