While I wrote about the Apollo 17 mission the other day, I thought about command pilot Ronald Evans, the astronaut who was left behind in lunar orbit while his partners decended to the surface of the Moon. Evans spent about three days alone, more than 200-thousand miles away from home. His crewmates would get most of the glory, and he would be a footnote in history. I’m sure he must have been thinking about these things while he was all alone in Outer Space.
Aside from the five other Command Module pilots in the previous Apollo lunar landing missions, nobody else has been so far away from other people, for so long. Even though all the astronauts and cosmonauts have worked hard to become astonishing individuals, I think the astronauts who had to remain behind, had to be the most exemplary ones. They pushed the boundaries of being alone.
Sure, Evans could not have done his job in total isolation from other people and their efforts. Everyone from the designers of the rockets and spacecraft, those who built it, Mission Control, and his fellow astronauts must be considered in a practical sense. However, the actual state of personally being alone, with nobody physically there for him at the time, is what I’m thinking about.
It must be scary to be in a situation where one is hundreds of thousands of miles away from home, with only the protection of a small, very vulnerable hull. Technology could fail, and ones mission-mates might not make it back for the final rendezvous. There is the risk that one minor miscalculation could aim your craft beyond Earth to the point that you could never go home. It takes someone of special strength and character to embrace such a scenario.
I never had the opportunity to meet Ronald Evans, but I think we probably would have hit it off. There are probably many aspects about the subject of being alone, that we could have discussed for days on end. I wish he would have written a book about his adventure.
I’ve written more than a few times about the virtues of solitude. The state of mind happens when you do not have friends or family nearby but you do not feel the least bit lonely. Your life is a solo path beyond the frontiers, but you cannot claim glory like Charles Lindburgh managed to do.
If you have not already experienced a severe existential crisis, I can assure you that you’ll likely have at least one, during your lifetime. If you’ve ever lost family members or friends, you know what it’s like to feel lonely. No matter what we do, there will be times when we’ll be utterly and profoundly alone. We are beloved and betrayed time and again, then we realize the only constant is change.
We finally grow up when we accept and embrace the fact that nothing will ever remain the same. Every single molecule, planet, person, and society must absolutely change. If there is no changing, there is no real living. Hardcore traditionalists don’t seem to understand this basic fact of life. I’m guessing that traditionalists fear that change will leave them isolated in their views and lives, so they fight to create an idealized vision of what has come before and what can never really be recreated. Such thoughts leave them feeling lonely and wistful for the good ol’ days.
Every single day, thousands of people begin new relationships and thousands of others end worn out, old ones. Some of the endings are diplomatic and graceful, most of the others end poorly and awkwardly. In any case, we will feel various and unsettling emotions. The ending of one relationship might totally annihilate you or the ending might be your ultimate salvation. It’s difficult to predict the outcome of any relationship.
The phrase, “once bitten, twice shy” describes why it is difficult for most of us to form new relationships. Regardless of how lonely we feel, we remember the pain of betrayal or betraying. This is a pain that remains in the background, regardless of what we do or think. We build a wall of protection around ourselves so we won’t get burned again or burn someone else again.
Sometimes, in quiet, moments of aloneness, I think about solitary and social periods of my life. Adolescence was a profoundly lonely period; but early adulthood was a time of happy partnership and social blending. Later, there were the normal break-ups and make-ups with lovers. A career path brought me in daily contact with thousands of people at a time. Most of this eventually came to an end. With post-middle age, come new challenges, opportunities, and uncertainties. None of these makes me special nor unique. Many other individuals have trod a similar path. However, nobody can travel my path for me, nor do I want them to do so.
I love to put on my snow boots, bundle up in a parka, wrap my face in a knit muffler, don a pair of mittens then go for a long stroll in the dark, quiet early morning after a blizzard. There are very few things that can bring me such bliss as communion with the aftermath of a severe winter spell. I used to imagine myself living in Siberian exile or as an explorer on Antarctica. Perhaps it is the bit of Sami blood in my Swedish heritage coming through.
Because my associates claim to hate winter, they rarely accompany me on my sojurns. I don’t mind, though. The absolute state of being alone in the snowy, cold, quiet of deepest winter is a treasure to behold. The joy of solitude is at its peak, for me, at those times. That joy is limited only by my biological ability to withstand only a few hours of subzero temperatures at a time. Soon, I make my way back to the sanctuary of home. There, I find comfort with central heating and a cup of hot soup.
I am alone with the memory of my recent reverie.
Sometimes, I feel inspired to write about it.
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows that it’s quite healthy to spend quality time alone. Being alone is an important skill that should be learned by all so that we are not defined by the opinions of others.