I realise that I am not able to completely throw away what was central to me when I was young, no matter how much I now understand it was wrong. I have just come inside to write this piece. I was sitting outside, on our terrace, bathing in the silence, looking across the fields of almond trees down to the Mediterranean Sea. I was quite alone and conscious of being alone. I was, however, not lonely, quite the contrary, I was enjoying the peace and quiet, and my own company.
Therein lies the crux of this story of my life, the difference between loneliness and aloneness, and the progression from one to the other. The story of the progression will come at the appropriate point, later in the story, for the moment the key factor in my life was the loneliness.
After looking at the screaming in my head, last week, as I contemplated my future, I am taking a step back to consider the whole period of my youth—and its loneliness.
Loneliness is at its most acute when amongst people. It is the feeling of isolation and disconnection that is so debilitating. I felt that frequently, during the years of my youth, in the period up to my dive for freedom. My last memory of this was soon after I had left home and started work in the theatre. I was surrounded by the people I worked with and for. There were actors, managers and technicians, all of whom were interesting people who were happy to connect with me. The problem was that I did not know how to connect with them. I had the feeling of paralysis. I did not know what to say or how to behave around them.
I remember sitting, one lunchtime, somewhere in the city away from the theatre. I was eating a sandwich feeling terribly homesick. I felt out of place to the extent that I wanted to go back home, back to the control and loneliness there. Sense prevailed and I shrugged off the feeling and carried on. I discovered no solution at that stage other than to keep living and keep discovering what life was about.
Jean-Paul Sartre said,
If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.
I was in bad company, I was with myself. I had no social skills, other than battering people with my opinions. I did not know how to connect. I had learned to hide this with brashness but I had not learned to go beneath it and start to understand myself. It was all about me and how badly I was treated by those I looked to for love and support. I saw it as their fault and that it was caused by me not being interesting or worthy.
In my last year at school I had a simple experience that re-affirmed this train of thought within me. It was the day of the final Speech Day for my school. This was an important occasion held in the impressive Free Trade Hall in the centre of Manchester. My mother came with me to witness this last important event with me—my father, of course, was busy at work. We took the bus together from home up into Manchester. It was a long ride spent mostly in silence. I remember feeling awkward because I did not know what to talk about. I thought it was me, I realise, of course, that I inherited this feeling from my mum.
As we came into the city centre my mum told me that she was not able to come to the speech day because she was going to see Yuri Gagarin instead. He was the first Soviet Astronaut (Cosmonaut as he was called) and he was going to visit Manchester that day. This was a big deal for many people, clearly, also, my mum.
That was it, I was rejected in favour of the first Cosmonaut, clearly there was no comparison, I was unimportant and uninteresting. What did my schooldays matter, they were for me not my family, any of them.
As Mother Teresa said,