On Being Alone

The right rear wheel of my shopping cart was evidently square, and it was starting to really annoy me as I pushed my groceries out to my truck in the parking lot. It was 9 pm on a Monday night, and the parking lot was almost empty. McCaffrey's grocery store had only a few shoppers – mostly people on their way home from work or just out to pick up a few things.

As I crossed the parking lot towards my truck, I was suddenly struck by the feeling that I was alone. There is nothing lonelier than a large empty parking lot late at night. But I wasn't just alone in the parking lot. I was alone at home and in my life in general. I had no family waiting for me at home. I had no significant other waiting to see me, no children, my parents are gone and so is my older sister.

None of this was news to me. I've been alone for the last 14 years since my parents died and my fiance called off our engagement and moved out. Except for a couple of years living with my fiance, I've been living alone since 1982. What was strange about my feeling at this moment in time was that I was having the feeling at all. It wasn't a feeling of loneliness. It was a realization that my loneliness was something most people, including myself, would pity. But I was happy about it, and it didn't seem right to be happy about being alone. I tend to feel sorry for other people who live alone, so why didn't I feel sorry for myself.  Let me count the ways...

I have a good friend I've known since I was in grade school. She is now a great grandmother and has more family than most people have friends. She has four siblings, five children of her own, eleven grandchildren, one great grand child, and more on the way. She has raised one of her grandkids herself and has had several living with her from time to time. She has more people in and out of her house than any sane person would tolerate and has been taken advantage of more than anyone I know.

That many people can't get along well all the time. Some get along most of the time. Some get along some of the time, and some don't speak to each other. But they are all "family." She reminds me of the old fable, "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she didn't know what to do." She prays for peace and quiet, and looks forward to being alone. So far it hasn't happened, but after 65 years, she deserves it to happen.

Children were something I never wanted. Perhaps I was selfish about what I did with my life and time, but I think too many people have children because they think that is what they are supposed to do, or because they weren't careful. More than once I was told that I would be very lonely in my old age if I didn't have children to visit me and take care of me. That seems to be a much more selfish reason than mine. I wanted more control over my life. They worry about their old age.

My married friends feel sorry for me at holidays and invite me over to join their family festivities. These are the same friends who, during the rest of the year, are envious of my freedom to come and go whenever I want and where ever I want. I don't want to be their charity case at holidays, and I really don't want to be with other people's families – even for a few hours. The unsaid introductions are: "This is Lew. He has no one, so we took him in for a few hours."

I have no compromises about where I go, when I go, whom I go with, and how long I'm gone. I have no obligations to report in or explain the what, why, where, when, and how of my life. Many people can't even imagine that, let alone experience it. And too many people who can experience it are too busy feeling lonely to appreciate what they have.

This past April I decided to go to Romania so I went in May. Have visa - will travel. I may go to China next year, but I have no reason to plan ahead. I spend my summers in Colorado and traveling. I don't need to say, "Honey, where would you like to go?" I tell my dog where I'm going or where we are going, and go. It's a nice feeling to wake up in the morning and be able to say, "I can do whatever I want today."  If you can't do that, then don't feel sorry for me.

Then there is the money issue. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family with a child born in 2000 can expect to spend about $165,630 ($233,530 when factoring in inflation) for food, shelter and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years. And that doesn't include college. Add another $80,000 - $100,000 or more per kid for that. I figure I saved at least a half million dollars by not having kids. I also saved a lot of time and energy by not having to raise them. And I didn't have to work harder to get promoted or make sacrifices so that I could afford to put them through college.

My parents had three kids, with a 16-year difference in age between the oldest and youngest. (I was a middle child.) They had at least one of us in school for 32 years. My father worked past normal retirement to pay for it. By the time they were free to do the things they always wanted to do, their health didn't allow it. I suspect that if they had remained childless, their health would have been better. But then I wouldn't be writing this.

One of the cars in the parking lot had a fairly common bumper sticker that said, "We are spending our children's Inheritance."  I smiled – and thought,  "There was an old man who lived in a shoe. He had no children 'cause he knew what to do."