Between Despair and Pride


I am reading some essays by Wendell Berry in which he captures–with great simplicity and concision–the necessity of loneliness. I think that is one of the reasons I love Washington Island so much: when I say that I feel more myself there than anywhere else, I think it is because I am alone there, and lonely there.

Loneliness is frightening. And that is part of what is necessary. I mitigate my loneliness with my dogs. They are soulful and joyous companions, and I need them, because the intensity of emotion is sometimes threatening.

And I would never walk in the woods in the dark without them, even though Moses likes to pretend he is a wolf: running off to return and stalk me silently along the far edges of the path. This is his great game, and he makes me feel that I am in a Russian fairy tale.

But in this loneliness there is also a settling in to the essence of self. It’s not an exercise in ego, but an escape from it. It feels, as the non-essential is pulled away, that the course of life is running along its proper path. I am simply myself. Again and for the first time. Theodore Roethke wrote “What falls away is always, and is near.” I think this experience is what he was referring to.

All this is to say that it has been a long time since I have been to the Island for any length of time, and I need to go there. My trip was almost cancelled this week by other kinds of necessity, and the thought of not being able to go created a rising panic that started deep. I need to go there to let the world fall away. I need myself back.

Berry talks of the right place in life as being between despair and pride. They are his opposites. I am ready to know whether they are mine.

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