Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.—-Alice Koller
I sit alone in a crowded restaurant. On my right, there is a couple, who seem too careful during the meal. Her blond hair behaves even though the wind is blowing. She chews with her mouth closed and she laughs inside herself instead of being too loud because it may reveal too much. The man tries too hard, the sports jacket and khakis don’t make sense in ninety degree weather. My eyes dart to my left, where I see two men, raising their beers, saying cheers, the bottles cling echoes in my ear. A mom sits with her four year old, her pigtails curve up like a smile.
I look down at my table and see only one place setting, a single glass and no one sitting across from me. In my teens or my early twenties, the thought of eating alone in a crowded restaurant caused a rippling anxiety in my stomach. What would other people think? Would they feel sorry for me? How would it look? Too concerned about other people’s judgments, I strayed away from eating alone. Instead, I craved noise and the security of family and friends in my dining experience.
In the last five years, I’ve noticed a shift in my own personality. I enjoy silence. Too much chatter and noise makes me nervous. I like holding on to empty space. In my kitchen, I quarantined a cabinet, deciding that I wasn’t going to fill it up with anything. Sometimes I look to that cabinet space as a reminder to honor the quiet. I’ve talked so much about stillness and my inability to achieve it. And that my restlessness prevents me from pursuing meditation and yoga on a consistent basis.
But as I sat in the restaurant, I realized I’ve made progress. I walked into the restaurant and with confidence asked for a table of one. As I ate my salad, I savored each bite, tasting the texture of the romaine lettuce and the crunch of the croutons. I smiled as people passed me, looking at them in their eyes, not afraid of their reaction.
Another part of me acknowledges that I still have some more to work to do. Eating alone doesn’t mean staying out of touch. Of course, my iphone sat next to me, settling in as my lunch companion. I perused Facebook and texted a few people while I drank a sip of my water. I knew my mind failed to embrace the purity of the solitude.
I suspect I am still afraid of completely dipping myself in the quiet.
Are you afraid to eat alone? Do you fear what others think of you when you eat alone? Do you have an empty space in your home or elsewhere honoring quiet?