I thought Iceland would be lonely. Doesn’t it seem, after all, like a place built for loneliness? Deserted up there with nothing to warm it but the threat of volcanic eruption, all wind and sleet and sky, and less people in the entire country than the population of Tampa? It is a landscape carved by lava and ice. Why shouldn’t hearts and souls be carved by the same?
It was the first time I had traveled that far on my own, without someone to meet on the other side. It was the first time I had really traveled in years. Too many years. They sneak up on you and pounce. People warn you that it will happen, but like all sneaking things, the moment of revelation always comes as a shock.
I took the trip not because I had the money and not because I had the time and not because I had the perfect traveling companion, but because you never know how much life you will get, or what kinds of chances you’ll be granted. It is a good reason.
I thought Paris would be lonely, but for the lack of personal romance. I imagined myself walking the streets in the shadows of couples, always happy, always in love. And I would feel the weight of the imaginary being that could have been by my side if it were only a different life or I were only a different person. Less complicated, perhaps. Taller? It’s always more or less of something, isn’t it? As though there’s some magic balance we all must strike in order to be loved.
I waited for the loneliness to start creeping.
And yet, it didn’t. Iceland was humbling, Paris joyous.
When you are on your own and responsible only to yourself, you are able to observe in a way you couldn’t if you were tasked with carrying on conversation or assessing the emotional and energetic state of your companion. The cities are one long wander, time indefinite. Other people, pigeons on a post, the light cutting through the rooftops—you see it all, and you sit in it as long as the sitting feels right.
It is a privilege to be that quiet.
Note to readers: I realize this week’s letter is short, and that I didn’t send one last week. Both are due mostly to traveling and the holiday, and, if I’m being honest, it wouldn’t be hard to trace my dwindled productivity to the aftermath of the election. But I’m recovering from all of the above, and next week I hope to share something I’ve been working on that’s more substantial. Thank you for reading.