A Memory of Aloneness
Knowing how to be alone is an antidote to loneliness.
In my senior year of college, I took part in a 6-month study abroad program in Hong Kong. It was my way of telling myself that I needed to step away from Los Angeles, the city where I was born and raised. Other than a few short trips here and there, I never really left LA, and even chose it as the city where I attended college as well.
By committing to this 6-month stay in Hong Kong, I was stepping outside the bounds of the known and into the arena of the unfamiliar. It was my silent declaration of departure, a stern affirmation that I’d embrace the discomfort of foreign sights and sensations.
What followed was an unforgettable time where I made new friends, took a lot of pictures, got into a (short-lived) relationship, took part in a dance competition, traveled to nearby countries, did a lot of stupid things in clubs, and studied for a few hours during the course of an entire semester. 6 months of memories, of which there are just a few that I can readily access.
But there’s one particular memory that’s surfacing as I’m writing today’s letter.
One night, my friends and I took a bus to head out to Lan Kwai Fong, the party district of the city. It was probably around 10 PM, the weather was fair, and the bus was unusually empty. We all had a decent amount to drink already, so conversations and laughter were flowing as seamlessly as the currents of a downstream river. And given that there was no one else in the bus, the volume of our voices weren’t held back by the adherence of norms.
Amidst this cheerful atmosphere, I decided to do something a bit odd. Instead of gathering with everyone and chiming in on their conversations, I sat down in an empty row and lowered the window beside me. I had a sudden desire to feel the air glide across my face, and to do so in silence as the bus hummed along toward its destination.
What I initially thought would just be a few seconds turned into a few minutes, which then became the entire bus ride. I just sat there, alone, as the chatter of my friends continued in the background. But instead of interpreting my friends’ chatter as a nuisance, it was absorbed into my internal experience as a harmonized melody of sorts. The peaceful state of my aloneness synchronized with the cacophony of the background, and somehow, everything felt still.
The reason this…