At my last dinner before leaving home to live in Tokyo, these words unexpectedly came out of my mouth. In Japan, they’re a common way of expressing feelings of loneliness. Early the next morning I would leave and Grandmother would be alone again. I was sad at the thought of her being by herself, and thought that she might feel as lonely as I did.
But Grandmother surprised me by saying, “That’s okay. I like loneliness.” I thought she was just acting brave. I knew that she had been devastated when we—her daughter, who was her only child, her three grandchildren, including me, and my dad—all left her behind to go to America. But she was fifty years old then; now she was nearly eighty. My American upbringing had deprived me of understanding how Grandmother had learned to find happiness and live a good life in Japan, alone.
One way we embrace loneliness is by internalizing lost loved ones.
The word sabishii means “lonely,” but my grandmother’s way of using it seemed to have a deeper meaning. Perhaps to her it was the human condition to be lonely. So being mindful in moments of loneliness connected her to others, because we all experience this sadness that is part of life. Grandmother’s way of living was based on a mature acceptance of loneliness, of the suffering in existence, and of the impermanent nature of human experience.
Loneliness reminds us that we know love. I saw there was dignity, sacrifice, and service in my grandmother’s way of parting, which freed me to pursue my path.
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