“Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”
- Francis Bacon, On Friendship
People spend too much time alone. Or, perhaps, not enough. It’s tough to know. Are you alone if engaged with a thousand like-minded commenters via the Internet? Are you together if seated quietly among your friends and family? These questions strike close to the heart of depression, that peculiar malfunction by which a person can feel like they’re afloat in the sleepy Pacific despite the myriad meaningful relationships in their life and their broader membership in Humanity. They also strike at how we experience togetherness. One among a crowd of raucous, drunken friends or one-on-one in perfect silence while you watch the rain and wind dance in the street below; both are together.
I spend a lot of time alone. There’s probably a better way to say that but I like the plainness of it. At work, I sit alone for most of the day. Interactions are sporadic, sometimes planned, often brief. The world’s knowledge is at my fingertips but I am alone. In a previous job, I met five or ten times a day for different discussions. Was that less alone because there were more engagements? Was that more alone because there was less time for any kind of quality discussion? The time alone is good for me. Maybe not for others.
One reason I like this solitude is because I rarely ever feel alone. It’s one of the great gifts of a relationship with someone you want more than anything to spend the remainder of your days with. You are on their mind and they are on yours. “In” is probably a better word than “on”, because they inhabit, consume, and often form the very fabric of your thoughts.
I think about Ireland a lot. On the northern shore of the island’s portion that chose to join the United Kingdom, about four hours’ drive from Dublin, is a beach town named Portrush. We arrived in late summer, excited to visit the Giant’s Causeway where armies of fractured hexagonal volcanic stone thrust up from the ocean to cliffs we did not expect. The world there is windswept and green. Cliffs is the best word because there is no slope. Farms dot the world above. Then that world drops several hundred feet to the beach below. The world ends.
Portrush prides itself as a beach town, a destination. For someone who grew up around the sleepy warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this is a funny. It’s cold, dammit, but we’re at the beach in July. Tourists wander down streets, to the beach, to the open air bars and restaurants. I would visit this town again and again.
We’d driven for hours, with a left-handed stick shift on the left (wrong!) side of the road, and we were tired. Finding your way to an AirBnB using Google Maps while driving the streets in a town populated since the 1300s challenges your endurance and patience. The southerly lingering daylight skewed our sense of time. It was nearly 9pm before we checked in. All we wanted was beer.
Except, it seemed, everywhere closed. We would discover the next morning that these places didn’t open early, either. We couldn’t match the rhythm. We walked the streets for almost an hour until we found Kiwi’s Brew Bar. The drowsing barkeep let us in but told us they were closing, a private event for the crew who’d worked grueling summer shifts the last several nights. We bought advance beers and settled in.
We talked. We sat in silence. We drank the beer. Try the Portrush Sorley Boy’s Stash Golden Ale if you have the chance. We listened to the crew laugh and cuss. We listened to American pop rock hum from the radio. An old blonde dog wandered over, too proud or too wise to beg for attention, knowing how drunken humans worked. He lounged for a while and we missed our pups back home. We asked the barkeep about the bar’s name. He laughed, explaining that he was the kiwi. A native New Zealander, he visited Portrush once and stayed. Visit and you’ll understand. You could stay, too. He moved from one cold oceanic end of the world to another.
The whole world existed inside the dark bar. It could have been the cabin of a ship, an apartment on the moon, or our own bedroom on a Sunday morning. Nothing existed outside it because we were at the end of the world, after all. We finished the beers and headed home down a black beachside street to our purple apartment-of-the-night. The Causeway embraced us the next day. We continued traveling, each day thinking that day’s spectacle could not be better and then the next day adding to it. I forgot about Kiwi’s. I forgot about sitting with my wife there in nascent evening.
We came home a few days later. Life resumed. We moved a year later to a city we know as home, with jobs where we spent more time alone than ever before. I think about Kiwi’s often. That single image, viewed in my mind as though from a ship’s porthole into the warm world inside, a piece of our shared story that idly arises in casual discussions about some of the best moments of our life together, keeps me company. I think about the things I want to do and then I do them, a gift of the time alone to think and create, to be bored and to be busy, and I’m not alone because I’m always sitting in Kiwi’s with my wife.