PAUSE FOR THOUGHT: Alone-ness - by rev. Rosemary Wakelin


On Desert Island Discs, the guests are usually asked if they would mind being on their own, and sometimes they say they wouldn’t mind – if fact, they’d like it – and I think, ‘Would they? Or are they just saying it without thinking it through?’

When aloneness was forced on me I did not welcome it. It scared me stiff. I’d been for years in the middle of a busy family, and suddenly all three children left home – for perfectly good educational reasons – and my husband died, and there I was, rattling around the family home, full of memories and echoes – and I felt completely lost and very lonely. I didn’t even know what I liked to eat!  All the years of cooking had been focussed on what everyone else liked. Pre-marriage friends were scattered and only kept up with at Christmas. The cats and dog were immensely reassuring, and work, the Church and my wider family reminded me that of course I was not alone. But still the stuffing had been knocked out of my life. I was even scared of being in the house alone at night. A charming art student, needing digs, lodged with me for some months which was comforting – but I knew I couldn’t go on hoping something would turn up. I also discovered that widows can be seen as threatening to married couples – so socially you can feel isolated, and you can’t go on whining to your children. Something had to be done.

I remember saying to myself, ‘If I’ve got to be alone then it’s got to become a positive instead of a negative – so I’ve got to stop running away from it and confront it.’ My first move was to buy a ticket for the theatre – a single ticket. I went on my own and when the interval came and everyone was with a partner or group of friends, I stayed alone and welcomed my aloneness. I embraced it, savoured it and made it my own. That was only the beginning, but bit by bit, I began to realise that there were many advantages in being alone. I stopped feeling frightened and threatened, found new friends, explored my interests which had been put on ice for years, and took the risk of launching into a new job which eventually led to the lonely calling of the ministry.

Of course, I got the idea from the Gospel. There’s a story where Jesus takes the water, wind and darkness, symbols of danger, fear and despair which were overwhelming his friends, and uses them as a pathway. It’s called walking on water. It’s part of the new strategy for living that Jesus gave to his New Community. A great many Christians down the centuries have learned to do it.

I’m just glad I knew about it when I needed it. It’s hard, but if you keep focussed on Jesus, it works.

Rev. Rosemary Wakelin