Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement. –Alice Koller
I sat alone on a crowded restaurant patio. On my right, there was a couple that appeared too careful during the meal. Her blonde hair stayed still even when the wind blew. She chewed with her mouth closed and laughed inside herself because a chuckle would reveal too much. The man was trying too hard; his sports jacket and khakis didn’t make sense in ninety-degree weather. My eyes darted to my left, where I saw two men raising their beers, saying cheers, the bottles’ cling echoing in my ear. A mom sat with her four year old, the hair from the little-girl’s pigtails curving up like a smile.
I looked down at my table, where there was only one place setting, a single glass and no one sitting across from me. In my teens or early twenties, the thought of eating alone in a crowded restaurant would cause a rippling anxiety in my stomach. What would other people think? Would they feel sorry for me? How would it look? Too concerned about other people’s judgments, I strayed away from eating alone. Instead, I craved noise and the security of family and friends in my dining experience.
In the last five years, I have noticed a shift in my own personality. Silence is welcome. Too much chatter and noise makes me nervous. Technology has increased these decibel levels. Sometimes I am too connected to Facebook, my cell phone and computer, but I am unable to disconnect from it even though I know I may be missing pockets of silence.
I know I like holding on to empty space. In my kitchen, I quarantined a cabinet, deciding that I wasn’t going to fill it up with anything. Sometimes I look in that cabinet space as a reminder to honor the quiet. Acknowledging the part of my personality that gravitates toward noise sometimes prevents me from reaching the stillness and mindfulness that I need for my mental sustenance.
But as I sat in the restaurant, I know I’ve made progress. I walked into the restaurant and with confidence asked for a table of one. As I ate my salad, I savored each bite, tasting the texture of the romaine lettuce and the crunch of the croutons. I smiled as people passed me, looking at them in their eyes, not afraid of their reaction.
Another part of me realizes that I still have more to work to do. Eating alone doesn’t mean staying out of touch. Of course, my iPhone sat next to me and settled in as my lunch companion. I perused Facebook and texted a few people while I drank a sip of my water. I knew my mind failed to embrace the purity of the solitude.
I suspect I am still afraid of completely dipping into the quiet.
Rudri Bhatt Patel is a former attorney turned writer and editor. Prior to attending law school, she graduated with an M.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She is the online editor for the First Day, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, freelances for various parenting websites, and writes her personal musings on her blog, Being Rudri. She is working on a memoir that explores the Hindu culture, grief and appreciating life’s ordinary graces.