Somewhere I read the riddle:
As I was going to Saint Ives, I met a man with seven wives.
Every wife had seven sacks. Every sack had seven cats.
Every cat had seven kits. Kits, cats, sacks, wives –
How many were going to Saint Ives?
I was never very good at math and trying to make all the multiplications that riddle calls for does not inspire me. In fact, one does not need any math at all to solve that riddle. The answer is one – “As I was going to Saint Ives.” The rest of the riddle is immaterial. There was only one who was going and I was that one.
For each of us there are times when we are compelled to make a journey alone. Some paths are wide enough for just one person. Some burdens must be carried; some work undertaken; some guilts borne; some decisions made by just one person. There is some “Saint Ives” to which you must journey alone. There are some paths that only you can walk. Some burdens only you can carry. Some guilt that only you can bear. Some decisions that only you can make. No one else can be born for you.
The Right Kind of Aloneness
There is a right kind of aloneness and a wrong kind of aloneness. The right kind is creative. In aloneness our minds can be most creative. In aloneness God can speak to us. The wrong kind of aloneness provokes pity, disintegrating of emotions, and depreciation of one’s self. Loneliness is a devastating experience.
There are times, though, when you and I must be willing to be separated from those we love. There are times we need to talk to ourselves and say, “What manner of person must I really be?” The person who cannot stand to be alone should seek to discover why.
In some way or another, every person experiences lonely exile. You can live in the same house with a person, or several persons, and still feel exiled. Loneliness may come as a result of an unsympathetic mate, a misunderstanding with a friend, a feeling of dependence when we have nothing to depend on, or in so many other ways. Loneliness can rise in front of us like a brick wall, an empty chair, a hushed silence, an itch with no place to scratch, a feeling of tiredness with no place to lie down, a desire for expression with no ears to hear. One can experience a climate of discomfort but not be able to explain it.
Remember this. It is okay to need to be comforted. It is as blessed to receive comfort as it is to give comfort. It is just as human to need to be consoled as it is to console. We like to identify ourselves with strength, but sometimes we also need to identify ourselves with weakness. Sooner or later, each of us comes to the place of needing to be comforted.
None of us is really ever alone, especially at night. The methods we use to fall asleep peacefully are good, but we need to remember there are always three angels that guard our sleep.
The first angel is our Higher Power. The second is the positive side of our minds that believes in us. The third is our gentle, hopeful spirits within. Whether we know they are there during the day isn’t as important as knowing they are there at night. We are at peace in our sleep because they are there to watch over us.
By Bob Mueller
Bob Mueller is the Bishop of the United Catholic Church. You can reach him here.