Solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Solitude is more like the sun. Afire and at peace in its otherwise dark corner of the universe, content to glow brightly whether or not anyone notices. Loneliness, on the other hand, necessitates a greater sense of self-absorption. It would be as if that same sun were fixated only on its own finite supply of fuel. “Alas, I do not know why God saw fit to hurl me into this desolate wasteland of space, but such is my lot in life: to give light away to a slew of ungrateful planets until I at last burn myself out and collapse into nothing.”
The notion of a disheartened sun seems counter-intuitive. One would think being a ball of fire means feeling like one. The truth is, however, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between solitude and loneliness from the outside. The same sun that appears bright and inexhaustible one day, might very well be feeling sullen and overcast the next. The difference is internal and elusive. No one intentionally chooses to despair interludes of isolation. We all want to think ourselves delighted and content with our own company. And sometimes we are. Just not always.
I guess because I am acutely aware of how I am forever oscillating between peace and panic, I try to remain open to the possibility that others are experiencing similar fluctuations. There is, I believe, a great deal of perceived defeat masquerading as fiery self-confidence. So I do what I can. I try to be deliberate about talking to strangers. Simple words. Words like “hello” and “thank you.” I am not so foolish as to imagine my efforts are forever altering history, but I am convinced thoughtfulness can’t hurt anyone and just might do someone a whole lot of good.
I can only speak for myself, but I know I experience unsolicited expressions of kindness as affirmations of my existence. One casual smile from a stranger, and I’m suddenly (almost) certain the world would be a darker place without me. Now, I have no way of knowing if anyone else on the planet feels the same way, but just in case, I choose to err on the side of cheerful chatter and spontaneous smiles. After all, solitude and loneliness look too much alike for me to carelessly assume the sun rises each day in confidence.