Ironically, right as I’m trying to incorporate some solitude into my life, Beyond Blue reader Frank sent me this meditation of his on solitude. As I read it, it occurred to me that the experience of motherhood is much like that of prison–you need to wake up in the middle of the night to get guaranteed solitude, and even then, you can’t be totally sure. Here is what Frank has learned in his prison ministry:
I have been involved in a prison ministry in two medium security prisons since 2000. My stepdaughter told one of her girlfriends that having two dads was cool. She said, “My real dad is a cop and my stepfather is in and out of prison every week.” She has a great sense of humor!
All my time in those prisons doesn’t qualify me as a prison expert but there were a few things I observed that were different than life ‘outside the razor wire’. One, is the food we have to enjoy is just wonderful. I’ve eaten in the prison mess hall often enough to report that it’s cheaper than cheap and generic is not even a good way to describe it. Everything is sort of light tan or gray in color – and that’s the way it tastes. It’s enough to keep me from breaking any laws just to avoid that lingering aftertaste. Bad news.
Now, I was not in the prison to help the men get out. I was there to give them alternatives to the choices they’d been making – sort of a lifestyle coach, encourager. It’s true that we had an agenda – we wanted them to be encouraged to find a spiritual existence that would work for them in that harsh environment. But we weren’t radical in our approach.
What I couldn’t help those men with was the noise. Time after time they would tell me how difficult it was to find any peace and quiet or time to be alone. Several of them finally realized that the only way was to wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and turn on a small reading light and read their bible or pray while their cell mate was sleeping and the rest of the unit was quiet.
For myself, I cherish a few minutes each day of absolute quiet. I go out of my way to find it. And, like those friends of mine in prison, I find it most often early in the morning. And it is refreshing. It’s like a late spring rain shower washing everything clean and fresh. It renews the inner me.
In his book, “Out of Solitude,” the late Henri Nouwen wrote: “It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended but a gift to be shared.”
When my youngest brother took his life, I agonized over his death. I think he didn’t know that his personal solitude was a place of potential for discovery. I would have given up my career and my home if I could have somehow rescued him from his depression. But that was not to be. And when one of the men in prison took his life out of quiet desperation, I held his cellmate in my arms as he wept.
In our search for life’s truths, the discovery we can make in solitude is one of great significance and it can be the source of great joy. And when we emerge from that moment or two of peace and quiet we can rejoin the busy day with all its noise and strife and share our lives with others – whose lives are made richer by our presence.