Lonely but Never Alone: Lessons from Tanglewood

This past weekend I took my annual "solo adventure". Last year, my inaugural quest took me to Rhode Island where I stayed in a studio Air BnB in downtown Providence, explored Brown University and RISD and spent the next day doing the Cliff Walk in Newport and lusting over every square inch of The Breakers. 

This year, my destination was Lenox, Massachusetts where every year an exceptional man by the name of John Williams hosts a concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra where they perform some of his legendary works at a little music venue called Tanglewood. (If you don't know who John Williams, just think Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Superman, E.T., Harry Potter -the first three at least, and Indiana Jones). 

The house where I stayed was above and beyond what I could have imagined. Picture a mini mansion nestled in the Berkshires, complete with Gilded Age stained glass windows, wood carved paneling, two kitchens, and it's very own grand piano. I played the piano for about half an hour, read a magazine on horseback riding in the Berkshires on the side porch and took a bath, a past-time I never usually enjoy. But as I sat in silence listening to the rain dripping outside I began to feel something I rarely allow myself to feel: loneliness. 

All of a sudden, and without any provocation, I started to cry. It happened for absolutely no apparent reason and for once, I just let the tears flow until they blended in with the bath water and became indistinguishable. This feeling of loneliness, of isolation, was almost crippling in that moment and yet, was somehow freeing me from something I hadn't even known had been holding onto me until then. As I got dressed and ready for the concert, I forced myself to again, remain in silence and just focus on what I was feeling and why. I started to notice that the more steps I took the less lonely I felt. Eventually, those feelings began to subside and I started to focus on the excitement of things to come later that night. Basically, by simply letting that brief moment of loneliness exist, I had somehow overcome it in an organic way I had never done before. 

I made it to the concert at just the right time and the rain had subsided somewhat, which was a blessing because my seats were outside. John Williams was incredible (like there was ever a doubt) and all was going right with the world. 

And then, a millennial's nightmare occurred. My cell phone broke. Let's be real, anyone who knows me knows my phone was on the brink of death for about six months now, but of course it decided to keel over when I was in the middle of a field, in western Massachusetts, in the rain . . .  at 10:00 at night. 

I was stranded. Everyone else had left the venue by then and the rain was coming down hard. I began to regret taking the trip, convincing myself that I had been foolish to do this on my own, convincing myself that no one was there for me and that I wasn't as strong as I had thought. Then I realized that I had shared my location with my best friend earlier that day and that I was wearing my Apple Watch. I called my friend using the watch and immediately she and her girlfriend calmed me down. They started tracking my location and guided me home each step of the way, always reassuring me, always a steady voice in the car with me. 

Once I was finally in bed, showered and safe, I began to reflect on the experiences of the day and realized something pretty significant. What I had felt in the tub that day, was entirely different from what I had felt in the car that night. What I had felt in the tub was a few moments of loneliness. What I felt in the car when I realized my cell phone was broken, was the feeling of being utterly alone. The thing is, only one of those feelings was valid and merited any of my attention. 

Feeling lonely at times is a normal and natural emotion. It happens and it's healthy to let that feeling happen, just like we should let being happy, or angry, or hurt, or any other range of emotions happen. For those few moments, I was lonely. That feeling was true. Being alone; however, is never actually the truth. If we are lonely for too long, it can lead us to feeling alone, but is that ever actually the case? No. 

Take my weekend as a micro example. Did I have anyone with me on that trip? No. But was I ever truly alone? Absolutely not. Because when I started to panic and just needed a calm voice, my friends were there. The next morning when my cell phone was still broken I sat at the dining room table with my fellow boarders and we spent two hours talking about arts, culture, music, our lives, etc. I was no more alone at that time than I was in the car. The circumstances may have lead me to feel otherwise, but it was not the objective truth. 

I think we often blur the lines with these feelings, and pay improper homage to the feeling of being alone, and not enough attention to the simple feeling of loneliness. When we do this, we let that loneliness creep in and overwhelm us and convince ourselves that we are alone

The next time that feeling of loneliness starts to creep in, instead of pushing it away or pretending it's not there, just confront it. Allow yourself to experience it for a few brief moments and then let it naturally fade away. You'll be surprised how quickly it does fade.  

Regarding feeling alone, always remember, there are so many people sitting in that car stranded in western Massachusetts at night, feeling alone and helpless just like I wasBut if you just phone a friend and reach out for help, someone will be there to guide you every step of the way until you're home safe. 

So, lessons from Tanglewood in a nutshell?

  1. Learn to be lonely. 
  2. You are never truly alone.
  3. John Williams is the greatest composer to ever live.


Note from the author: Gender Traitor proudly supports organizations like the Trevor Project, IDONTMIND, and many others whose function is to bring awareness and acceptance to the importance of mental health. 



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