Solitary confinement and kindred spirits

On Thursday evening I wanted to skip home. I contented myself with a little ‘hop’ up onto every pavement and a very bouncy walk home. But let me start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

Recently a colleague and I discovered we catch trains at a similar time from Waterloo, meaning that we ‘pound the pavements’ together of a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. That evening our conversation as we exited work led us from her tutoring onto my degree (Teaching with English) and the conversation went something along the lines of this…
Me: (mildly embarrassed) Well I really love writing…
N: (excitedly) I love writing too!
Me: (encouraged but still a bit apprehensive) I have a blog.
N: Me too!
Our blogs, our subject matter, the danger of not feeling good enough and declaring yourself to be ‘a writer’ without fear, our love of reading, our time for writing – every subject we hit next had joyous cries of ‘yes, me too!’, ‘I’ve been there’, ‘try this!’. In the wise words of CS Lewis, ‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one”‘

It was one of those great moments in life, when your heart sings because someone else loves what you love. You’ve met someone who ‘gets it’, who understands without the need for explanation. Your souls can identify, they rejoice, they know they’ve found companionship.

Even once we’d parted, I continued to walk through Waterloo after parting with a delighted grin on my face, and even sat on the 17:20 smiling to myself, simultaneously reading said friend’s blog and writing this. What a blessing! My heart was, and still is, singing.

Even more brilliantly, this is not the first time this has happened to me this year.

In the first half of last year I attended a Freedom In Christ course, and on one of the weeks I missed, a lady gave her testimony. My Mum was practically in tears and it was probably beneficial I wasn’t there, but fast forward a year and we eventually met up. I’m neither making it up or exaggerating to say that the vast majority of our stories were identical. Even to conversations and the words that were spoken with our ex-spouses. It was surreal, a complete and total relief, and if it wasn’t such a sad topic, utterly brilliant.

To directly contradict a phrase from Jane Austen’s Emma, ‘Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of being sometimes alone’. Oh! Dear reader, the comfort of being sometimes understood.

One of my favourite childhood books is Anne of Green Gables. I have an old copy of my Mum’s that I once dropped in the bath, and as such it is a wrinkled, dried-out-in-the-airing-cupboard, well-thumbed book with a cover beginning to peel away from the rest of the tome. I admire the cheeriness that pervades Anne’s waking thoughts, although she often has to choose this attitude, and I am inspired on every read to model myself thus. But what the young Anne seeks, more than anything else, is a kindred spirit. A kindred spirit is one with whom you identify. They don’t have to be the same as you, but the principle is this: you understand one another. With words, without words, similar or polar opposites, I think your heart knows when you meet a kindred spirit. I have had the good fortune, I think, to meet such kindred spirits.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I believe in coincidence deliberately engineered by God. I have no doubt that meeting these people was no accident, but down to higher organisation. The colleague I mentioned above is the person who got the job I interviewed for back in April. Another of our colleagues now works in our role too, beginning shortly after me at the exact time her other contract was ending. Perfect timing.

But so sadly, community and communication is something we avoid. I’ve been told a few times lately about another friend who travelled to London a few weeks ago on a morning commuter train and was dismayed to discover that no one spoke to each other. I imagine this is no exaggeration. Some mornings, genuinely and absolutely, no one speaks. Commuting can be a solitary business. Surrounded but alone.

Which is why it is such a joy to walk with my colleague, both ex-Reading students, having a chat on a few evenings a week. In the morning however, I was still in solitary confinement. I had managed to break down a few barriers with regular commuters, deliberately catching the eye of one who wouldn’t speak to me and piping up with a breezy ‘MORNING!’ means he now greets me each day, and offering a lift via a friend to a second commuter in a delayed-train fix has opened up conversation on the platform at least. Imagine my joy then, when one of my dear friends, the mother of my Godson, began to catch the same morning train. That Thursday morning we companionably watched The Apprentice (me) and slept (her). But the best bit is, again, we walk. Only 12 or so minutes a day, but a chance to discuss, offload, and relax. There is something about walking that enables talking. And my favourite part – every morning now starts with a hug as we part. No longer alone.

I can’t imagine being in solitary confinement. As one of 4, I’ve always wanted to have people around and be part of what is going on, wherever I am. Living suddenly alone held enormous challenges for me purely for the reason I was alone, never mind everything else going on. I love to be with people.

Therefore commuting challenges me. These people are my community, yet the expectation is to be quiet. We hear of conversations struck up on a train leading to revelations of the Gospel, prayer, healings. Can I challenge the norm of silence? Will I dare to be controversial and speak to someone I don’t know? Dare I just smile and say hello?

Where is your community? The day to day people you see, the connections you can make? It’s easy to make excuses not to talk and to stay in our solitary bubble.

I’m as guilty of this as the next person, of staying silent and letting those moments pass me by. But maybe take the chance, say hello to someone, because you never know, you might find a kindred spirit.


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