Hell is other people.

September 3, 2011

Alain’s gone to the market this morning without me. We usually go together on Saturday mornings for each week’s produce and essentials. But today I needed some time alone. My friend Charlie recently sent me an article in The Atlantic about the nature of introverts. The author calls on Sartre with the quote, “Hell is other people at breakfast.”

That pretty much sums up my experience. Guess I’m full-on introvert.

The author further notes, “after an hour or two of being socially ‘on,’ we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing.” Might I clarify—that means two hours alone, physically alone. I don’t think anyone else I know (besides my friend Charlie), really gets that. Being “quiet” while sitting next to me doesn’t suffice.

Though not of the same orientation, Alain at least honors the rules. Tonight we’re going to a rugby match with my extrovert friend Christine whom I love dearly. She’ll then stay a few days with us before heading back to the extrovert land of Paris. Alain’s granted me the apartment alone this morning in preparation for all that social time. Though he doesn’t innately understand why I need this time, he does profoundly “get” what happens when I don’t. Kind of hard to miss the extremely irritable and irrational consequences. Bless him.

I wish I could explain why it’s only domestic beings that I need a break from. Even our dog Lilly can invade my alone time. She’s a lot more social than me it seems. But wilderness doesn’t affect me the same way. I can watch a wild animal for hours and feel no sense of claustrophobia at all, just the contrary in fact. Nature is a tonic that recharges me even quicker than if I were completely alone.

So it was recently with the storks. Alain was in bed recovering from our epic bike journey and I was out here in my chair trying to get in the alone zone. When he called to me I was less than pleased over the interruption. But I went to see what he needed and he pointed to the abbey’s bell tower. A couple of big-beaked birds were hanging out on top. I went to get the bird book to be sure what we were looking at when Alain called again, frantically. The sky had erupted in wide-winged bird flight. They came from all directions. They swooped and circled, a few landing on red-tiled rooftops, the bell tower now covered in live, stork gargoyles.

I watched them from our french doors way into the night. They turned our village into their roost, the way I’d so many times watched Everglades birds roost in mangrove branches for the night. Once settled, every now and then I heard clacking sounds from their stork bills. Other townspeople came out with cameras. Neighbors I’d never seen before opened roof-top hatches and ventured out to see the winter messengers. For once I didn’t feel so odd with people, their presence didn’t disturb the scene at all. It was like an intuitive understanding floated back and forth between the storks, me and the villagers.

We slept with our windows open as we do every night in the summer. From our bed you could see the silhouette of the big birds on the tower. I woke several times to the clacking of beaks and looked up to make sure they were still there. At sunrise their clapping sounds stirred my sleep and I saw them against the early morning light. I didn’t know how much more time I’d have before they continued on their journey to South Africa, so I rose to sit and watch them from our big French doors. We had breakfast together, me and the storks. And it was heavenly.

Good morning, I whispered.

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One Response to “Hell is other people.”

  1. Regan said

    Loved this window view not only of the storks but of your essence as well.

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