A Day Alone (in the Metropolis)
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"I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will."
— Henry David Thoreau —
October 19, 2007, New York City:
A Day Alone
I spent most of the day yesterday all alone.
Apart from a little conversation with my flatmates in the morning, I spent Saturday wandering in Manhattan on my own and, admittedly, at some fleeting moments—lonely.
However, for the most part it was an exuberant loneliness, a cleansing of the soul almost, much like amazing sex can be.
Nonetheless and allthemore, the score was a win-win solution, for I could act upon a whim and not be thwarted by the need to compromise; I could wander aimlessly and not have to contend with the complaints of others less apt to stray; I could look up at the blue-blue sky and watch inspiring swaths of clouds slowly pass behind skyscrapers and think, “I need to sneak into the nearest tall building to take a picture of that!” and then, regardless of the risks, proceed to do exactly that, surpassing security by snaking my way through a gallery on the ground floor, down into their basement, onto the service elevator to the tenth floor, into the stairwell to ascend four more flights, and finally, to the top, where I took postcard-perfect photos of the city, just as I had envisioned while coursing through the streets below, only a few minutes before.
Alone, I could also eat, nibble and nosh by myself in a quiet corner of the closest Fresh Tortillas joint and not feel the pressure of keeping pace or having to be or dine elsewhere; I could take clandestine street photos, standing for long stretches of minutes anticipating and waiting for just the right decisive moment; and finally, I could be a bad-bad boy and wander from one theater to the next from 5 PM until 1 AM to see four movies for the price of one, and not be chastised or hampered or most importantly—caught.
Yes, indeed, there was a lot I could do alone, which is not as easy, and sometimes seemingly impossible, when you’re with others.
The last film of the movie marathon I saw yesterday (also including Michael Clayton, Rendition and Dan) was Into The Wild, which proved to be the perfect way to end this day alone.
The film, based on the non-fictional book by Jon Krakauer, is about the extraordinary choices of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, a staunchly independent young man who long yearned to experience life on his own terms. To this end, at the age of 21, immediately upon graduating from college, he donates his life-savings of $24,000 to Oxfam (instead of applying it to Harvard Law, as his parents would have preferred), takes his beat-up yellow Datsun and drives—drives north toward his dream—Alaska.
Not far into his adventure, he abandons his vehicle in the middle of a desert, burns the last reserve of money and identification he has and takes his backpack and books and starts walking. His sole companions are the compelling words of Emerson, Tolstoy, Thoreau and his favorite author, Jack London.
"The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. "
— Jack London —
Thus, his story seemed to befit my own for a day. I had no one to meet, no cell phone, and no agenda, leaving me free to be and do as I pleased.
However, as much as I truly-genuinely-sincerely reveled in my solitude, there was a moment when I was eating my $5 two-taco special that the sun gleamed through the front store window and I suddenly missed my boys—immensely.
They were spending the day with their maternal grandparents, so I knew they were in good hands, which was consoling. Nonetheless, I was compelled to send a text message to my estranged wife that read: “Please tell the boys, our boys, that I love them when you pick them up tomorrow.”
I didn’t though. I was too afraid that she would think it too becoming of my quirkiness and that this would somehow trigger a bout of anger, the one thing (ugh, long drawn-out and sullen sigh) that for years I have tried to avoid the most. Thus, I demurred.
And thus, I let my whim of sentiment go and continued on to the theater.
The haunting feeling revisited me though when I sat and watched Dan, a Hollywood fairytale about happy families and marriages that are meant-to-be.
As sickly ideal that this film was, I’ll admit I was touched. I’ve been a hopeless romantic ever since I was seven years old when something strange was piqued within, as I watched The Lady and the Tramp suck on spaghetti and inadvertently kiss, while sitting in the middle of my parents in the front seat of our white ford pickup truck at the Capitol Drive-in.
Hence, I was readily suckered into and sickened by this film.
It was a good sick though, a feeling of nostalgia and yearning for the elusive fulfillment of that seemingly universal, yet wholly futile, fantasy—about two people being “destined” to meet. And who, subsequently, overcome obstacles together and eventually build the kind of family where everyone seems to get along, despite all the daily problems of life. So that, in the end, ultimately—everyone is happy.
"All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
— Leo Tolstoy —
In other words, while sitting and watching and wishing—I missed my boys again. Especially, whenever, Dan had to deal with the trials of tribulations of being a single parent (widow, of course) of three rambunctious girls.
Being that I live apart from my boys, these were moments when I felt sad that I did not have the opportunity to deal with both the good and the bad of their daily lives. I hate to think that somehow, despite all the scheduled times, I am missing watching them grow up.
I consoled myself by remembering that I have always worked rather diligently to make something of this time alone, and that as a consequence of this separation, I strive daily to create and write and take better pictures of this wonderful life around me, so that some day, others might be inspired by what I see; and so that some day, my boys might likewise be inspired, in turn melting away my worries that the time away from my boys was not, somehow, worthwhile, despite the pain of being apart.
(I’m about to give away the end of Into The Wild, so don’t read on if you care or haven’t read the book…)
Therefore, it is no surprise that at the end of Into the Wild, as the boy who became a man of his own accord, lie dying all alone of starvation and poisoning at the periphery of his beloved white-capped mountains, he sadly scrawls his last words: “Happiness must be shared.”
"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson —
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