A couple of weeks back, when we were reeling under the effects of Storm Emma, I painted a worrisome sight to those who knew me from close quarters. I had been contemplating a solitary trek into the mountains to experience the beauty of the storm itself and my idea had left quite a few of them genuinely very worried — for my safety and sanity. Ironically though, the storm was a tempest of sorts. Leave alone my grand plans of walking into the mountains to experience the snowstorm, I was wedged indoors with a huge pile of snow blocking both — my main door and the front gate itself. A few days later, when life had hobbled back to normal, and my colleagues at work and I were discussing its after effects (including the terrible looting of a Lidl store in Tallaght), one of them thanked me for not going out into the wilderness and endangering not just my own life but that of the folks in emergency services as well, who’d have to go herding me in. Amidst guffaws and snickers, one of them asked me,’Why do you run off to places by yourself?’
The answer to that question was both long and short. I gave her the short one of course, saying that I liked to do that. The long one involved walking down many miles of roads by myself, more out of necessity than choice, which afforded me the liberty to switch on and off between people and myself at will.
Now, I will admit that walking into a snow storm is not sensible in any sense of the word, but would I do it if I could? I definitely would. Not because I consider myself some sort of gallant explorer but because moments like these that take you out of your comfort zone and put you in a place where you are uncomfortable, and more importantly alone, help you understand yourself on a deeper level.
What I am trying to say is that when we are thrown into unfamiliar situations, our immediate reaction is to retreat into our shells and keep to ourselves. This is a very natural thought process, akin to curling up in a foetal position while one feels completely helpless and lost. It is followed by terrible bouts of loneliness. Most people tend to either retreat back to their comfort zones, or establish safe houses by seeking out similar members from a similar geopolitical background.
Seeking out one’s own is a fine (and very important) tendency. But what happens when someone chooses to look this feeling of utter loneliness and helplessness in the eye and not back down? Well for starters, it recoils back heavily. But then slowly, over time, the impact lessens wherein the person is comfortable being alone, doing things alone and even craving time to be alone when constantly surrounded by people.
I call this emotion the survival gene. Unfamiliar situations that lead to loneliness often metamorphose into something bigger, which in this case is the love for solitude. Again, there are various factors that contribute to this. Primary amongst them is the need to survive and exist. There are times when a person is surrounded by unfamiliar situations and experiences bouts of loneliness but is not allowed to feel it completely in his or her bones, simply because real world factors like food, clothing and shelter take prime importance. These factors do not allow you to even grieve deaths because there is no time for it. Most people in such adverse situations break, and retreat into their comfort zones or establish safe houses, whilst a few others choose to rally on enduring it all. With time, the impact of this feeling of loneliness, helplessness, or whatever one chooses to call it, lessens.
This is akin to the ending of the storm and the breaking of a new dawn. The ones who choose to endure it are given a chance to see the first light of dawn, whilst the others who have chosen to fall back into their comfort zones get to enjoy the banality of a sheltered existence. There is something in it for everyone.
I was thinking of all these things the other day, long after I was asked that question. It left me with some answers and many unanswered questions. One thing that it did leave me with was the certainty that I would always walk out in search of a new dawn.
(Rohan Swamy is a former journalist, writer, photographer, now working at Trinity College Dublin)