(March 28th, 2012)
A wise friend of mine once shared this quote by Hunter S. Thompson online, and I have spent a lot of time puzzling over it, off and on, over the years, and it ultimately ended up reinforcing and further shaping many of the thoughts that I’d been developing for a long time already:
“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”
And it also stirred up some new thoughts. Because what is anything worth, no matter how well you know yourself, if nobody else can truly understand the depths of your own mind? This troubles me, to some degree, but it also gives me hope, because I think that this idea is such a profound realization. You can never, ever truly know another person’s deepest mindset, but the most genuine among your acquaintances should have a character powerful enough so that their truest thoughts and feelings manifest themselves somehow into your relationship with them. Even if you can’t truly know, you can get a very powerful understanding, to the point where you can often accurately predict something they’ll say or do, and connect with them at a profound level. You’ll get something of a sense of how this person really thinks and feels, and you will feel that much closer to them for this, even if you cannot ever fully understand the depths.
Surely you’ve noticed this, that you can sometimes predict (with striking accuracy, even) how a friend or loved one will react to some bit of news, or a shared thought of your own, or even just a joke? It could be coincidence, of course, some of the times. Many people may react in very similar ways to the same stimulus. But if it happens often, especially to a wide assortment of stimuli, then you are probably on to something. You have probably come to understand this person to a level deep enough to be considered a more powerful relationship among relationships. And this connection should be realized, and treasured, because it is a rarity worth every bit of consideration. Any person that you can relate to on a deep enough level to not only get along with (vastly important on its own) but predict their reactions to events is a beautiful thing among beautiful things.
People are so complex! Even the seemingly simplest person must possess a mind and character complicated enough to stump even the most analytical person. It’s not easy to connect so deeply with a person, but the resulting treasures are absolutely invaluable. And yet even among the most familiar of friends, two people who have shared themselves with one another to the deepest of their abilities, there must be an unimaginable amount of inner thoughts and feelings that can never be truly expressed, and even more so that can never be truly understood. Imagine your own mind—how many thoughts are constantly stirring, how many feelings are welling up inside you at any moment of any day, and consider how few of those thoughts and feelings you have actually shared in their rawest, deepest form with another person. When you assume that any other person your gaze falls upon has just as many thoughts yet to be shared, then surely you will be awed by the enormity of even a single other mind and the bountiful treasures there to be known and shared. And what better measure is there of a life’s fullness than how many people really connect with it, and to what depths they truly understand it? Of how many lives are touched positively by the influence of another? Of how many hopes and dreams are reinforced by the connections with similar peoples’ pursuits and the sharing of mindsets that can mutually assist each other?
But in the end, as much of a difference as it may make upon the cherished people in your life, no amount of understanding and familiarity can truly bring them into your head, into the deepest depths of your mind’s wanderings. They will never know how you truly feel about any single thought you’ve ever shared with them, despite any number of years of faithful friendship, kinship and/or love. They simply can’t, as you simply can’t truly experience theirs. Just as every person lives their life alone, utterly and completely, locked within their own mind’s interpretations of the perpetually unfolding events that made up their existence, at the bitter end of it all every person will die alone with the sum of their experiences. But this is where the beauty lies… it lies in the trust and comfort of your friends and loved ones, because even though you will never experience even a split second of their true mind, you can feel as though you’ve shared many years’ worth of experiences with its unfiltered acceptance. And the difference between the actual mindset and the feeling of having shared the mindset is, although impossible to gauge, all but invisible when you truly love and trust a person. The trust is of utmost importance here, of course, because your trust is what separates the doubts of whether or not you truly know this person as well as can be known about another separate human being and the euphoric feeling of believing that you actually do. And the demonstrable evidence, such as sharing many interests and beliefs, witnessing their reactions to events which support your understanding of them, enjoying similar jokes and stories, connecting with each other’s thoughts, and even just simply enjoying the comfort of each other’s company and lifestyle, go such a long way in developing such a relationship. You can get as close as is reasonably possible.
You are still living your life utterly alone, however, despite any number of the grandest relationships with your fellow humans as can be imagined. Even if every single one of the dozens of close friends you may have knows you so well that they can give you the most perfect gifts, suggest the best movies and music and books, share with you the most enjoyable memories, and finish your sentences for you, they still don’t know your true mind; they will never know the true thoughts in your head. They will never know the true pain you are feeling at any moment, or the true depths of any joy. Nobody will ever know your true feelings about something, whether it’s a restaurant or a song or a movie or another person or even them. It could be that you have actually shared your thoughts as they truly are, but a person just cannot know this to be true, to no fault of theirs. They have to believe that what you have expressed toward them is the accurate portrayal of the true feelings. Right or not, at its core, this is the foundation for all relationships, and rawer sharing brings more opportunities for this connection to achieve the highest possible connection.
It comes down to so much trust, in the end, and so this trust is, of course, pretty much the single most valuable aspect of any sort of relationship. Because it is an unavoidable fact that one will never know for sure, the next best thing is to feel as if it is for sure, and this can only be achieved if one trusts that you really are sharing with them the closest thing to the actual reality of the situation as possible. Have you ever shared an inner thought with someone who refused to believe that it was real? Or maybe you have shared a false thought with someone who did not even hesitate to take it as truth? The more clever and devious people can make quite a living from this extreme of trust and many, if not all, of the people might not ever even suspect any sort of dishonesty. And on the other hand a person might be unfailingly honest in all of their sharing and yet face the constant skepticism of their closest friends. No matter how trustworthy you are, a person has no inherent obligation to trust you and it must come from the complex workings of your relationship with them. This trust should work itself out, given enough time and enough honesty and enough demonstrable experience.
But trust is a wildly complicated thing. In the end, the best that you can really do is be as honest and trustworthy as possible while reaching out to find those people who you’ve realized, to the best of your abilities, are trustworthy themselves, and have the capacity to trust in return. You’ll never know for sure, but you will get an ever-deeper and more intricate understanding of them as a friendship grows, and an effective grasp of the depth of this relationship will hopefully only ever increase. The people in your life whom you hold most dear will understand you, down to your core, ever more accurately and deeply as this trust builds. And the same should be reciprocated. As your lives carry on and your shared experiences grow, so should your relationships and the resulting connections that bind them.
And yet you will still be living utterly alone despite any number of the most perfectly formed relationships. They will help immensely, for sure, but they can never truly fill that void that perpetually separates the depths of your mind with the rest of the world around you. Nothing can bridge that gap that divides the entirety of the physical world, including the trees and the chairs and the streets and the computers and all of the other people within it and all of the other thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams that they hold dear, from the abstract interpretations that your mind utilizes to make sense of it all.
And so you need to be comfortable on your own terms. You need to be able to occupy yourself, and enjoy your own company when you find yourself alone for any length of time. You need to understand yourself. Not in the “normal” sense—because of course you’re you, and of course you spend every single moment of your life within… well, you. And that’s exactly the point, really. You need to understand yourself so fully, so completely and fundamentally that you are entirely familiar with your deepest thought processes, your most intricate decision-making. You should have access to all of the activities which will fulfill your personal desires in all of the times when you are alone with your own self. Whether this constitutes reading books, or playing video games, or listening to music, or taking walks, or surfing the internet, or watching a movie, or writing, or calling/texting friends, or housework, or simply exploring the wanderings of your own mind, or whatever else might the case, it is so fundamentally important to be able to live your life, in the random periods where you, yourself, are your only company, just as fully as if it were being spent with a crowd of fun-loving friends. The specific experiences will differ, of course, because you can’t really enjoy the festivities of a burgeoning social gathering when only you are around, but at the same time, you can’t really enjoy the comfort and satisfaction of a good read while dozens of drunken friends are stumbling around and over you. Knowing and understanding yourself, in all foreseeable (and ideally even the unforeseeable) circumstances, is crucial to always holding within your own grasp the ability to satisfy the demands of your ever-hungry desires.
The same friend who shared the opening quote once told me that confidence is “realizing yourself.” And I’ve also puzzled over this throughout the couple years since it was shared my way. In the end, I don’t think I (or perhaps anyone) could have said it better, or more simply. And how beautiful that is, that such a simple explanation turns out to be the truest and most meaningful of all. To realize yourself, I believe, is to be so utterly comfortable with who you are, with what and whom you enjoy and appreciate in this world, and with what you enjoy thinking about, and with what you enjoy sharing with other people, every one of whom is in the exact same boat as you—cruising along, trying to grasp the meaning to it all while of course experiencing as many shared joys as possible.
The inner workings of life and relationships are so complex because the interests and expectations of people can vary by such a wildly vast degree. This makes truer connections that much more difficult, but that much more rewarding. Because despite all of the possible combinations of beliefs and interests a person can have, to connect with another and intertwine these ideas so finely is perhaps one of the most rewarding endeavors that can possibly be achieved. But a line should be drawn between sharing and conforming—nobody should ever have substantial control over your personal actions. You should do what you want, pursue what you want, see who you want, talk to who you want, hang out with who you want, think what you want, believe what you want, drink what you want, say what you want, play what you want, read what you want, travel where you want, buy what you want, stay up when you want, wake up when you want, watch what you want, dream what you want, and so on (all within reason of course), and any person who has any say in any of these matters should work with you for a respectful, cooperative understanding (because they should respect your history and your fundamental traits!). Anything less screams of mistrust, and therefore eternal conflict, and what else, if not trust, is the general idea in the first place? You can spread your wings together and fly off to whatever heights your mutual efforts can bring.
People tend to reflect on past decisions and say “I don’t know why I did that.” And this suggests a deep problem, because that is precisely the sort of thing that you should want to avoid. You should understand situations, and your own internal struggles, more than well enough to make the properly thought-out decision right then and there, without having to back-track in a confused daze at some point in the future once you realize some overlooked implication. And in those (hopefully) rare occasions when you genuinely didn’t have the resources (time, for example) to really properly analyze, then you should have next to no trouble in realizing, once you DO have the proper time to consider, precisely why you acted in some way. You should be able to reflect on some unfortunate outcome, and on its causes, and think to yourself, well I did that because (insert informed realization here). You should never ultimately not know why, if you truly understand yourself. And if you find that you really don’t, then you have a fresh goal to improve upon. Reflect on what this insight can do to assist your well-being in the future so that you can make the right decisions at the time of reckoning.
I’ve always been intrigued by that oft-repeated phrase, “everybody dies alone.” Many curious thoughts have been exercised in wondering about this, about the many various contexts in which it is used, and what it really means for us. Other peoples’ mindsets will always remain second-hand knowledge to you, at best, and yet at absolutely every last single moment you WILL know what you yourself is thinking and feeling. And that makes the concepts of deep friendships and true loves so overwhelmingly incredible, that you might understand another human being so well as to connect with them at a level deep enough to get along and understand each other beyond the interactions of the vast majority of the people you will ever meet in this world.
And yet every single last one of us, despite any number of everlasting friendships and true loves we’ve made along the way, will die utterly alone. Completely, entirely within our own consciousness, alone with the sum of our vast collections of experiences and thoughts and beliefs and feelings, joys and sorrows, successes and failures—every single last bit. And yet there will probably be many people at your bedside in the final days, at the bitter end of a life long lived, trying their best to enjoy their final moments with you, trying to provide comfort to you, and to themselves, trying to glean the best of the final moments that your physical existence has left in this world.
And still you will die alone.
But not necessarily lonely, which is the essential key. You could have spent the most fantastic, fairy-tale-incarnate life imaginable with a significant other, and raised a houseful of healthy, successful children now living at least as much of a wonderful life, and have a host of diehard friends there to be with you for every last breath that they have the opportunity to witness, and all of them may hold you in the highest possible regard right up to those final moments, and still you will die alone. Alone, but yet in the most wonderful company a person could reasonably hope for. And the incredible thing here, what makes this entire idea so resonant in its beauty, is that you can live an entire life locked within the confines of your own head, forever aware only of what your own senses convey to your mind, understanding only of what your own mind is able to puzzle out of experience, appreciative only of what in your own experience is able to be understood. And yet all of these people want to be by your side, in the end. They will want nothing more than to show you, at the very end of it all, that they truly cared in some way. That they appreciate the life you have shared with them, even if the closest thing they ever experienced to your truest self was the briefest occasional glimpse into the true heart of your consciousness through a deep, honest, compatible relationship over the span of years that you were entitled to enjoy together.
And so, even if you really are entirely alone inside your own mind as the very last vestiges of your life flicker away, you will be able to relish in the joy that you shared such a full, joyous life with so many people who are there with you in the end to provide care, and love and comfort, and to let you know that you are not alone in the physical sense; you have made impacts, you have shared memories, you have divulged thoughts and feelings from deep within yourself and have been the recipient of so many similar thoughts and feelings that others have been more than happy to share with you in return. And I can only imagine that these precious connections, as intangible as they are, are perhaps the most valuable things that can be achieved in this life. As utterly alone as any of us are as we experience this miracle of life, the only real thing that we can ever be sure that we have truly experienced to its fullest, we will bask in the warming light of companionship at the end of it all, and know that we had been basking in its light the whole way all along even if it felt at so many points as if nobody in the world really cared or understood what we were going through at any moment
We are all alone, alone on this perpetual current of life on our individual little rafts, tossed and turned over so many waves and random turbulences, but we have the capacity and the will to meet up with as many other rafts as we can make time and effort for, and share in the incredible experiences that it will never stop sending past us. Being alone does not have to be so lonely if you are willing to cast out your rope and link up with as many other similarly lonely people as you can stand, and enjoy your loneliness together.