When Was the Last Time You Were Alone?
By Kelsey Janik
The dry summer dust on the road is soft on my bare feet, and the glaring sunlight gives everything an aura of over-exposure. When I finally reach the shade of the trees, my face aches from nearly an hour of subconscious squinting. I leave the roadside and walk a short way into the woods to a stream that runs towards the river at the bottom of the mountain. In one of the deeper pools I walk out knee deep into the cold water, digging my toes into the mud and watching the water-striders shoot across the surface and crowd under the opposite bank. I am intensely aware of the cold, living-and-mineral water and the pushing current. I am going to enjoy this day with no company but the water striders.
When was the last time you were alone? When was the last time you spent most of a weekend, or even a day or a couple hours, entirely by yourself, without a companion, a computer, or a phone by your side? Did you do so voluntarily, for your own pleasure? In this day of “bathroom buddies” and stream of consciousness text-messaging, my guess is it was a long time ago.
A group of students sit at a table during walk-through. A girl stands up: “Come up to get salad with me” she asks her friend next to her, pulling her out of her seat. Poor girl. She can’t walk twenty feet to the salad bar by herself. Earlier that day, another girl from down the hall had knocked on her door: “Are you wearing boots today? I’m not sure whether to wear boots or flats—will you wear boots with me? I just don’t want to be the only one.”
Here you have it: the future leaders of America. They can’t even decide what to wear without help and the assurance that someone else will wear the same thing with them. Some of them can’t sit alone at a table. What are they afraid of? They are giving up their ability to think and act independently, and as much lip service as ‘independence’ gets in the educational world, here at Deerfield we often have an incentive to depend on others. Isn’t it often easier to discuss homework as a group, or to have a difficult concept spoon-fed to you by a teacher rather than to figure it out by yourself? Study groups and extra help have their place, but many students find that when test-day comes and they have only themselves to depend on, they are unprepared to succeed alone. What will happen, then, when they have to face the real world? How is someone who can’t walk to the salad bar without company going to manage going to a supermarket?
This isn’t just Deerfield’s problem; everywhere I have gone in America, people my age and younger exhibit a degree of dependency, a constant need for companionship, contact with friends, assistance, and social approval. So the question is: Are these the sort of people to whom America is passing? Those who have never learned how to manage when they have to trust and depend on themselves?
The truth is, this isn’t just a question of going on a long walks on the weekends. Developing the self-confidence and sense of self-worth necessary to be a good companion to oneself is a way towards something more important: Learning how to survive independently. We will all have times in our lives when there is no one to help us, no one who understands, or no one who cares. In those times, we are all we can depend on. In preparation for those days, let us learn to trust in the one who is, after all, closest to us, and let us learn our own powers and limits; they are higher than you might think. In order to do so, we must enter situations that make us uncomfortable. So sit alone at lunch, wear a sweater that your friend thinks is tacky, and skip the history study group tonight. Can’t handle it? Maybe you can convince your friend to do it too…