Thursday, March 8, 2012

each one must die alone and live alone (solitude)

Photo by Thomas Merton
"Every man is a solitary, held firmly by the inexorable limitations of his own aloneness.  Death makes this very clear, for when a man dies, he dies alone.  The only one for whom the bell tolls, in all literal truth, is the one who is dying.  It tolls "for thee" in so far as death is common to all of us, but obviously we do not all die at one and the same moment.  We die like one another.  The presence of many living men around the deathbed of one who is in agony may untie them all in the mystery of death, but it unites them in a mystery of living solitude.  It paradoxically unites them while reminding them acutely -- and beyond words -- of their isolation.  Each one will have to die, and die alone.  And, at the same time (but this is what they do not want to see) each one must also live alone.  For we must remember that the Church is at the same time community and solitude.  The dying Christian is one with the Church, but he also suffers the lonliness of Christ's agony in Gethsemani.

"Very few men are able to face this fact squarely.  And very few are expected to do so.  It is the special vocation of certain ones who dedicate their whole lives to wrestling with solitude.  An "agony" is a "wrestling".  The dying man in agony wrestles with solitude.  But the wrestling with one's solitude is also a life-work - a "life agony".  When a man is called to be a solitary -- (even if only interiorly) -- he does not need to be anything else, nor can anything else be demanded of him except that he remain physically or spiritually alone fighting his battle which few can understand.  His function in the Church - a social function and a spiritual one - is to remain in the "cell" of his aloneness, whether it be a real cell in the desert, or simply the spiritual cell of his own incomprehensible emptiness: and, as the desert fathers used to say, his "cell will teach him all things"."

- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) pp. 180-181

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