Have you ever been to Mauritius? Manor House is one of four restaurants at the St. Regis Hotel. As the sun goes down, white covers are drawn over tables and chairs. There are normally only two or four people sitting at a table overlooking the ocean. On one occasion, however, the waiters were laying a long table for ten. Unusual – for a holiday …
The place of honour was occupied by a woman of about fifty with traces of burns on her face. The other seats were taken by her husband and her children with their partners and a grandchild. It was a very strange ceremony.
They brought the woman a cake and CELEBRATED the anniversary of the day they managed to save her from a burning building, with her body scarred for life. I was surprised that they would want to celebrate an event like that. But then I learnt from what they were saying that they saw this as a POSITIVE day – a day that had brought them together and reminded them of how much they meant to each other during their most difficult moments.
One by one, they each stood up at the table and told the woman, who could not stop herself from crying, how much she meant to them. “I’m beginning to believe that if this terrible thing had never happened, we would never have become as close as we are tonight,” she said. “I will always remember what you have said, as it helps me to straighten my back and lift my head up on those days I feel at my lowest.“
It reminded me of a beggar I met in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. He asked me for some change, which I gave him and then I watched to see what he would do with it. He crossed the road, bought himself a sandwich, had it wrapped, and continued begging.
I asked him, “Aren’t you going to eat it?“
He replied, “No, it’s my friend’s birthday. This is my present. It’s the only thing I have.“
Strange. Even those who have nothing can still find something to give their friends …
In the evenings I like to sit on the St. Regis jetty, a pier leading from the beach above the ocean, swinging my legs in the warm waves. I sit there on my own, but never feel lonely. I watch the couples, families and groups and see how important it is to be surrounded by the right people. I also see how senseless it is to worry about being alone and plunge into relationships where we end up feeling lonely. Here I can see a difference between solitude and loneliness – between situations where we are alone, and those where we feel ourselves to be alone alongside someone else.
The difference between these situations is in a different understanding of emptiness. A sense of emptiness does not necessarily mean that we are missing something physical, but actually that we are missing something inside us.
A person may want to be alone, even when in a relationship – if they need this, it can be cleansing. It is terrible, though, to experience the opposite – to be in a relationship, but to be lonely. In this instance it’s better to be on one’s own.
Since the publication of the my articles on self-worth, I keep being asked when it is better to be alone rather than alongside someone with whom we feel alone. What relationships would we not want to relive?
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