Shooting Stars

The Thing About Solitude

There is man in my neighbourhood, a stranger, who lives alone. I often see him as I come and go. He lives in a modest house, its curtains typically drawn or else half open, maintaining a reserved air of un-breachable privacy. His home is almost timeless, undecorated by the seasons, unadorned by landscaping or annuals. In the summer, a solitary aluminum deck chair graces the concrete steps, appearing in late May and disappearing at the first whisper of fall. His pickup truck is strangely conspicuous amongst the SUV's and second cars of this increasingly gentrified area, but it is perhaps the only thing remarkable about his house. One could walk past it, as I have for most of my life, without ever even seeing it.

I'm not sure what this stranger does for a living. Recently, after watching too much television, it occurred to me that perhaps he is lying low, that he cut a deal in return for a safe haven in the 'burbs. Perhaps he receives innocuous government cheques to help him forget services rendered. Maybe he steals off for a few days here and there to attend to "situations," to do "jobs," to intercept "packages." In a certain sense, he's conspicuously inconspicuous enough that I wouldn't be surprised to learn this, but neither would it be all that hard to believe he's a quiet mid-level public servant who bought early and stayed put. It's not really important.

What strikes me most about this mysterious stranger is the quiet life that he leads. He is not, I should note, entirely alone. He has a dog, a very well trained one, the kind that seems both menacing and composed at the same time. She could bite through your neck and drag you home, if given the order. I see them setting out at night on walks. Long walks. The kind of walks that people take who understand how important it is for their dog to move, to roam. I envision them walking for hours on an intricate winding route through streets and fields, returning home in the stillness of the night when all the world is asleep. Most people walk their dogs as a chore, as additional task associated with whatever bizarre benefit they extract from owning such a creature. As with any chore, one can take pleasure in it to a point, but one can just as easily feel the urge to half-ass it, to cut corners, to do the bare minimum. This man is different, he doesn't walk the dog because he has a dog, he has a dog to walk it.

The silence of it all is so very foreign to me. Compared to the scarcity of unsought solitudes the city has to offer, he inhabits an oasis of isolation. He can perhaps boast of going days without speaking, without interacting with the outside world. Maybe there is something to be said for this kind of solitude, a solitude that comes to us of its own accord. There is no need to seek it out in forest or on mountain top, it creeps in amongst the threads of every day life, like a hole in a wool sock. Surely it can be salutary, necessary even, given the incessant bustle of everyday life. Sometimes a bit of enforced solitude, spontaneous isolation foisted upon you by chance, is exactly what you need to set aside trivial distractions and seriously attend to the business at hand. Solitude begins to loosen the shackles of time, allows you to distance yourself from the stricter rhythms of desire and recognition. It is not a complete escape, but perhaps the closest thing one can accomplish with both feet on the ground.

It is this time-killing aspect of solitude that also earns it suspicion. I walked past the stranger's house tonight on my way home. It was after midnight but his driveway was illuminated by a floodlight, the back of the truck was open. Down the driveway I could see into the open garage, crowded with all manner of things. I could hear the sound of boxes moving, the occasional soft clang of metal brushed casually against cement. I didn't linger. Who knows what perfectly reasonable explanation there was for this late night packing. Our suspicion of solitude is reflexive, and on the whole I think quite warranted. The solitary who lives apart from time, lives apart from our time. One cannot know what perceptions of the world he holds as a result of this distance, what practices he might see fit.

I think we bear an implicit distrust of too much solitude because of the threat it poses to the flock. On some level we unconsciously recognize that the solitary walker is also the rabble rouser, that the pent up desire of he who tries to escape it often bursts forth in terrible ways. The hermit's re-entry into society is like that of a shooting star, utter destruction being the only possible outcome for he who sees every relation as an imposition.