There is an album by the metal band Wintersun called The Forest Seasons. It contains one song for each season, starting from spring and ending in winter. Even disregarding the contents of the songs entirely, there is a lesson in the fact that the song for autumn is named Eternal Darkness, while winter is named Loneliness. It seems to say that eternal darkness is bearable if you can do it with others, while the soul’s true winter is that of being unwillingly alone.
I’ve had several experiences in the past few months that have driven this lesson home for me.
In late 2022 my partner and I took our long-awaited trip to New Zealand. It’s a land of incredible beauty, and we had some unforgettable experiences that I hope to remember forever. I am not saying by any means that experiences had alone are less valuable than shared ones – anyone who knows me knows that I need my alone time and my personal space – only that there was a virtuous cycle in that this amazing travel experience enriched our relationship, and that in turn deepened the impact the trip had on me as an individual.
In 2022 I started a tiny Youtube channel. I learned that I unexpectedly enjoyed the audience interactions on my videos as much as making the videos themselves. Responding to people’s comments and incorporating their suggestions into future videos made the whole thing more rewarding. It’s the flipside of the experience I had years ago when attempting to write novels. Having to work for months over something before another person could lay eyes on it, and having to commit to the entirety of a long story without incorporating any feedback was immensely draining and I never finished more than a first draft of anything.
The roleplaying games I participate in reinforce this. I get so much more joy out of telling stories and building worlds when I can do it incrementally and with friends that I like and trust. In the D&D game I run, I live for seeing the expressions on players’ faces when they uncover something, or their reactions when I describe how well they succeeded or how dismally they failed at something they attempted to do. This is what I think about and plan in my spare moments, this is what my mind drifts to when it’s vacant. I’ve spent so many years trying to find my “passion” when something I’m clearly passionate about has been staring me in the face all this time.
It’s delightful when I’m on the receiving end too. My best friends in the whole world put together a birthday RPG session for me, and throughout it all I felt loved: in how our characters riffed off of each other, in how the people running it took the unspoken but implied goals of my character and wove them into the story, in how we were able to spend 10 hours telling this story together. I want this to be a part of my life forever.
I read a lot about the experiences of digital nomads, because I’ve wanted to experience that lifestyle for some time, and the downside that I read about most often is the loss of connection, loss of friendship, and how quickly people move on when you’re not involved in their lives. I still want to travel extensively – the whole world is out there and I want to see different cultures and places. But I also want to make sure to maintain and honour the friendships I’ve built so far, to be there for those people so that we can continue to enrich each others’ lives.
Solitude is not the same as Loneliness. It’s vital that we are okay with spending time by ourselves, since it will only increase as our lives go on. However, I’ve realised how important it is to treasure and nurture the connections we have with those we love, so that when Eternal Darkness comes, we have the option, should we choose, to weather the storm together.