Last Sunday (I know, a whole week ago- sorry!)  I stranded myself on a desert island.  Or one a whole lot like it.  The tiny village of Cabuya, a few kilometers from where I live, has an island.  It’s too small to have water or be livable, but it’s there anyway.  So, the village decided to put the village cemetery on the island.  At low tide, you can walk out to the island on mostly damp ground.  At high tide, the waves washing around both sides of the island make it a dangerous brew to try to swim through, even for the strongest of swimmers.  Knowing this, I checked the tides and opted to arrive at the island at mid-tide, as it was coming in.  I walked out in knee deep water, knowing that I’d be stranded until the tide was halfway out again in about six hours.  I packed my backpack with bible, book, journal, water, snacks, pen, camera, towel, sun protection, etc. and felt pretty prepared for a day stranded on an island alone.

The island was beautiful.  Rocky, low, ringed with agave, coconut palms and scrub.  Dotted with raised graves, small monuments, concrete crosses and various other markers.  The day was warm, sunny, breezy, and I was alone.  Not just by myself in the house alone, but really, profoundly, completely alone.  It was me, the lizards, the buzzards, and God.  That was it.  I wrote a bit, read a bit, napped in the shade a bit, waded and walked and sunned and studied and photographed.

It was peaceful, but at the same time it was disturbing.  Not the cemetery part.  I love graveyards and have spent many long hours in them studying in college, picnicking on many a New Years Day, or just wandering to read the names and imagine the lives gone by.  What was disturbing was the incredible sense of isolation.  I was alone beyond any kind of alone I’ve ever experienced.  I could not leave.  I could not call out and have someone hear me.  I could not look off in the distance and see another human being.  I could not pick up a phone, turn on a TV, or even switch on an iPod and hear another voice.  I could not just get in the car and go somewhere where people were.  I was profoundly alone.

I spend most of my days alone, writing, walking, doing yoga, etc, so I figured I’d feel no differently on Cabuya Island than I do at home.  This was not the case.  I found, as the day wore on, that my mind spun in circles, mostly imaging having someone with me.  I had a hard time focusing on my reading, studying, or writing,because my mind kept trying to conjure up some company.  This was unexpected, as I’d thought being alone on an island would be not much different than my every day life.  The silence, the stillness, and the underlying knowledge that I could do nothing to change my state until much later in the day was a strange and saddening feeling.

By the time the tide was far enough back out that I could conceivably walk back without soaking my backpack, I was ready.  More than ready.  I was slowly growing twitchy with nervous tension, even though I’d know from the get-go exactly how long I’d be stranded and what time I’d be able to get back to the mainland.   It was a relief to see the faces of the fishermen on the mainland, to nod and say ‘hola’ to another human being, to drive away, knowing I was going home not just to a shower but to my musical play lists, my Skype phone, and my neighbors who say hello and chat with me each day.

It just made me think about the total human experience.  We are, each of us, made to be social creatures.  We are born into families, learn to read and write in small groups, develop friendships, grow into romances, and look- even if we say we aren’t- for a mate, a life partner, so that we aren’t alone.  I’ve considered myself fairly free from the need for that in the last years, as I continue to choose not to date, to enjoy my alone state here in Costa Rica, etc.  But, at the same time, I am in need of the connections I have to other people.  I need, however peripherally, to be near other people, to be connected, to be acknowledged and to acknowledge in return.  Everyone needs that.  There is a reason our creator said that “it is not good for [them] to be alone.”  We often work better in teams than completely alone.  We find deeper understanding of ourselves, of God, of Love, when we connect to other people in various intimate ways.  We have an intrinsic need for connection.  Without it we are lost.  I know I felt that way, even though I knew exactly where I was all day and could pinpoint where ‘home’ was.

So, being stranded on an island taught me something: I don’t actually want to be ‘alone’.  It doesn’t feel good.   As experiences go, I’m glad I went, but it’s something I don’t plan to experience again if I can help it.  It was lonely in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.  It was almost scary in it’s loneliness.  Suddenly, I am far more appreciative of my friends and family far from home who gladly await my return.

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