A season of solitude

A season of solitude

In 1903, a German poet named Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to a young Franz Kappus, describing the holiday season as a time when the feeling of aloneness is likely to weigh more heavily upon the soul.

As a Canadian expat who will soon spend his second Christmas away from home in The Hague, Rilke's words resonate strongly.

Experiencing the holiday season abroad

This time last year I had the good fortune to be surrounded by group of international students who were also experiencing their first holiday season abroad. We delighted in the romance of a European Christmas. We shared stories of cultural traditions. We felt together because we were all apart.

This year, with those students gone, the weight of aloneness feels slightly heavier. The fresh contact has dissipated and the reality that I am not with those I care about most during the holiday season has settled in.

Worse yet, a steady stream of online Xmas updates, holiday photos and friendly emails from home wishing "I was there" have actually made me feel more distant, not less.

Being lonely is good

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke fondly reminds us that being lonely is good, for it is not easy to be alone. He also emphasises that the fact that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it.

Though there may be little comfort in Rilke's assertion that we are utterly alone, especially in the things most intimate and important to us, perhaps it is exactly in those moments of aloneness that we are able to more clearly reflect on who we are and what we want.

Solitude & Expat life

Simply put, personal growth requires solitude. And while the expat life may indeed be filled with its share of lonely moments that at times seem to signal anything but progress, this life also offers a wealth of opportunities to develop personally and professionally amidst moments of seclusion.

Removed from the daily distractions of life back home, I have found many chances as an expat to embrace solitude in ways that I did not previously. I have been forced to come out of my proverbial social shell. I have learned the joys and sorrows of traveling solo.

And most importantly, I have found the time to cultivate an identity in agreement with my own interests and desires, not in contrast to others!

Refuge in the solace of solitude

It is with these thoughts in mind that spending my second holiday season abroad feels a little less daunting.

I am happy not to be dealing with the inevitable stressors of the holiday season, the rampant surge of North American consumerism, and the endless wave family gatherings.

I have taken refuge in the solace of solitude. And for me that is one of the greatest gifts of all!



Leave a comment