Thursday, April 27, 2006

Is Solitude Melancholy?

There he was, sitting at a table alone. Before him a large plate of pasta, a glass of what I could only assume was water and a Newsweek magazine. He seemed content, yet the sight brought out a sense of melancholy from within me.

I saw him as I stopped to pick up a pizza on my way home from work on Tuesday. The pizza chain is inside a mall, but it has “patio” seating that is out in the corridor of the mall. That is where he was, alone among the seven or eight tables in the “outdoor” section.

He was in his sixties, or perhaps a little older, and he possessed an amicable demeanor. His tan jacket and his red suspenders were those I would picture at the mention of a grandfather.

After I ordered the pizza, I went into the bookstore next door to kill some time. When I made my way back, I passed him again. The bowl was empty and he reached to pick up the leather case that contained the bill. In my mind, the picture of me stopping and offering to pick up his tab flirted with me. I carried on and picked up the pizza.

I know nothing about this man except that on a Tuesday evening he was eating a bowl of pasta on his own while reading a news magazine. Nor am I sure why it had such an impact on me. It may have been the memories of the many meals I had alone while traveling around Europe during my college days, wishing I had someone to share the experience with. Or perhaps those I had in Italy while I was searching for field site for my dissertation research dreaming of being with Sara. Perhaps it was a vision of a personal future where I will be old and alone.

For all I know, he was spending an evening on his own, away from his bickering family, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the empty “courtyard”. There are times I enjoy being alone. And I often do find myself eating on my own, but I know I have someone who shares my life and that I am not confined to solitude. It is also quite possible that he is a nasty, racist grump that has brought his solitude onto himself. I will never know.

What I do know is that there are more and more people living isolated from others, even when there are people all around them. This is not a good thing. Perhaps I should have stopped and said hello to him; perhaps a hello would have been better than picking up his tab. However, my guess is that even if he wanted company, he would have thought I was nuts had I made any contact with him.

Such is the world, unfortunately.

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