I Am Alone, Please Let Me Tell You About It
Posted: March 24, 2022
Every happily married man should experience loneliness on a regular basis so he can gauge his own happiness…
I am alone in New York this week, and I have double vision so when I walk down the street, I pass identical twins who often are leading identical dogs and my loneliness feels rather dramatic. Double vision cost me my driver’s license and as a pedestrian I’m moved by the world around me, by the kids playing in the park, squealing and chattering, inheriting this grim world of bad actors and rampant horror. I had a good long life and I’m not sure they’ll have the same opportunities showered on me. This makes me terribly sad.
I once was a hardheaded realist, and now I’m a puddle of tapioca pudding. Partly this is due to being alone for a week. Every happily married man should experience loneliness on a regular basis so he can gauge his own happiness. Loneliness has advantages: you can leave your cereal bowl in the sink for days and nobody says, “Why can’t you put this into the dishwasher?” but on the other hand nobody comes and sits on your lap and says, “I love you. You are precious to me.” Women don’t walk up to you on the street and say that.
They used to back when I read poetry on the radio, read love poems in an intimate mellifluous voice, and sometimes a woman would hear my voice in the grocery store asking where I could find the prune juice and she’d whisper, “I loved the Cummings poem you read this morning” so I’d say it to her, “Since feeling is first, who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you,” and even though she was a copy editor and syntax was her business, she put her hand on my shoulder and sighed, but that was when I lived in St. Paul. New York women don’t do that sort of thing.
New York women will speak to a stranger if his shoelace is dragging on the ground or if he asks for directions, but I’ve never been so desperate for a female voice that I’d do that. I have numerous voice-mail messages from my beloved on my phone in which she describes the wonderful time she is having in Minneapolis or Florida or Connecticut without me, and I can sit on a park bench and listen to a few and they bring back memories of our sweet simple life together.
I listen to her the way people used to listen to me when I was a semi-celeb, Mr. Radio Poetry Man, and people, women mainly but a few men, tuned in to hear me say, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds” or Mary Oliver’s “You do not have to be good. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Or “I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.”
My ambition was to be a great writer myself, and in pursuit of that I locked myself into small rooms and wrote and rewrote and rerewrote for years and thanks to this ambition I missed out on love, and now I have a shelf full of my books that I never look at, knowing I’d be pained at having wasted all those years, but I have this wonderful woman and I have friends, and it turns out that my main gift to the world was as an anonymous voice of poetry. Somewhere there is a man, probably an unsuccessful actor, whose voice is heard thousands of times daily on New York subways saying, “Stand back from the closing doors, please,” and saying it with authority but also with genuine concern, and we all hear it and subconsciously take comfort from it. Same with the woman who recorded, “The number you have reached is no longer in service at this time,” thirteen words, hardly poetic and yet in her voice I hear her understanding of my sadness at a connection now lost, perhaps forever, a friend who has disappeared.
Each of us has a small role to play. Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I am going about my business, walking in the park, mourning for Ukraine and the children, waiting for my love to return to our kitchen, putting my cereal bowl into the dishwasher without being told.
Garrison Keillor © 03.22.22
America's story teller, known for his heartland wit and wisdom, and for many years as the voice of Prairie Home Companion on NPR.