Pre-Covid, I was walking past a playground and a small child was calling out to her mother from the top of a slide: Watch me, Mommy, watch me! The mother kept repeating: I see you. Taking in the scene I realized that two things were going on. For one, the child was exulting in the repeated doing of it. For another, she wanted both to be seen in the doing and to share the exultation. Her watch me was an invitation not just to her mother but to the world. I certainly felt it.
I don’t think we ever outgrow our need to be seen and for others to share in what we are feeling. Perhaps that’s what makes social media so attractive. One posts a range of activities, opinions, feelings in the hope of getting responses. One reads others’ postings and responds. Seeing and being seen. Feeling and being felt.
But what if there is no one to see us? What if there comes a time in life when we need to be the one saying to ourselves—I see you? To be both the child and the mother in the playground?
What about experiences that really can’t be shared outside of one’s own self? The ones that are too intimate; perhaps too gossamer to bear the weight of words? Moments for which there are no words? For me, this was the dawning of my inner life. It was also an existential challenge. I could either consign these experiences to inner oblivion or I could become skilled in the solitude that would have space/time enough for each. In that solitude no matter how gossamer, intimate, or brief, I can revisit the event to discover its levels and levels of meaning. One of my heroes, May Sarton, writes in Journal of a Solitude:
“There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over any encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.” (pg. 195-196)