On the discipline of being alone


Today I biked 15km to town and 15km back. It was sunny most of the way, lovely really, if we don’t discuss that bitch of a hill on the north side of town. I had a lot of time while peddling to think about life. I’m sure it’s what most people would do while cycling past farms and horses and old men with bread in their baskets.

There is a discipline to being alone. I understand now how monks taking a vow of silence have a strong will. To not communicate with people around you, to be shut off verbally, to be emotionally isolated even while surrounded by people, is difficult at best. I think this as I peddle to Der Beck near work. It is closed and I’m unable to ask when it opens again. I read the sign but I’m fairly sure it says it’s open Sunday through Saturday. Or Monday through Friday. Or maybe it’s Friday through the third week of the month on odd years. I have no idea. It is, obviously, closed now so however much I am craving a cappuccino I’m basically screwed.

So I continue to peddle.


I go the same route to Nuremberg that I’ve travelled before. I am thinking of how lucky I am, even as my stomach growls, to know this route. How every experience adds upon itself and stacks up to a new attitude of living. I am thinking this as I fly past a young man running on the trail. I recognize him, laugh softly, and as I pass I wave and yell, “HALLO!” to the intern that sits in my office. He laughs, waves back and says, “oh! HA! you!” I smile, continue to peddle, and think how random the universe is that I’d find a single person I actually know in this entire place of words I don’t.

I end up eating at a cafe I see randomly connected to a car dealership. It is halfway to town and I’m famished. I order in broken german, pathetic at best, and smile and nod and try to be as polite as possible when I get something correct. “Ya! Vassa! Ya!” I am excited to actually end up with the food I was wanting and sit quietly with my Kindle to read. It is almost a relief to see English words that I don’t have to translate on the screen. My mind eats up the structure of the language.


I pull in to town a half hour later and find it bustling. People are everywhere, eating ice cream, shopping in the market, dragging children to this place or that. I spend the afternoon among strangers. I hear exactly seven Americans and smile as I listen to a language I understand. It is so easy to speak this way, I think. I wonder if one day German will come as naturally and I vow to make that happen.


It is easier in a tourist place to be an English speaking person. I find a few people who understand me and offer kindly the proper words in German as I struggle. They speak English back to me and we both try on the other’s mother tongue. I find a seat outside and drink a latte in the sun. A German couple sits at the table with me as there are very few seats. It’s what you do in Europe: You share your table. There is not as much space here as there is back home. There are a lot of cultures, languages, people all in a small area and they accommodate each other by offering up chairs, the other side of the table, or a menu. I am happy to have them sitting with me even if I do not understand them or know them. It is comforting to be at a table with other people although I’m not sure why this is.


After purchasing a few gifts for family, I grab my bike and take the 15km back. I stop at the store near my work to get a few things for the weekend: food, dish soap, laundry soap. I know tomorrow I will wash my clothes in the sink and lay them on the radiator to dry. I will go to the bakery before 11 when they close on Sunday. I will take photos of the Easter trees in Erlangen. I will speak to no one. I will be lucky to find anyone who would understand me. I think of this as I sit in my quiet tiny apartment alone. I am not a monk but I rarely talk. It is something I take for granted at home and it’s teaching me the value of language. Of being emotionally available. Of connecting to people close to you or strangers you will never see again. I am learning the discipline of being present. Of not escaping to some place comforting. Of doing the difficult thing. There is no other choice here so I can not take the easy way out. I am forced in to a space I am not comfortable with and as hard as it seems at the moment, I am thankful for this time. My legs are aching with happiness as I sit and sip a glass of white wine and watch the sun set over this tiny German village. I have so much to say. And yet, in silence, I sit and sip and appreciate.

Posted: 4/3/2012