The billboard always caught my eye. The poster pictured an old man sitting alone in a house and the caption said, “After three days without seeing a single person, the last thing that he wants is some “me” time.”
Perhaps it was an advertisement for an age-related charity, perhaps it had been placed by a government agency. Whatever its origin, the poster seemed to capture an essence of a feeling of loneliness. It is loneliness where one is aware of being alone, it is not a solitude that has been chosen, but an isolation that has been accepted out of necessity.
Friday has become a day to dread. It means the arrival of the weekend and at least one day in which there will probably be no-one else to see. The joy around me at it being Friday afternoon is not reflected by any inner sense of happiness. Of course, there is a football match to attend tomorrow night, but then there was a football match to which I went on Monday night.
No matter how bad the day has been in school, and some of them are very difficult, a day at school is better than a day of solitariness. There will be chat, banter, a sense of purpose, a sense of being part of something, a sense of trying to achieve something.
The prospect of having to retire in eight years’ time, when I am 70, is one that is truly appalling. I tried to explain to a colleague today how difficult I would find it not going to work each day, not having the rhythm of routine, timetables, calendars, rotas. The worst thing of all would not be seeing people. I sent the staff an email at Christmas saying what a delight it was to be with them, I sincerely meant every word I wrote.
My supervisor for my doctoral studies has written extensively on solitude and there would perhaps be benefit in reading some of his work. Perhaps there is a possibility of turning a negative sense of loneliness into a positive sense of solitude. Perhaps.
It is not that I cannot find plenty to do at the weekends. Sometimes there will be two sporting fixtures to attend. There will be lunch with my son. There will be shopping and washing and ironing. If I get out of bed, there will be Mass to attend. On top of which, there should be at least ten hours of academic reading and writing.
It is not a lack of activity. It is just the emptiness at the end of the day.