I watched Nomadland Sunday. Robert Ebert’s website summarizes the film accordingly: “Fern (Frances McDormand) is grieving a life that’s been ripped away.” Almost every viewer will claim the movie is littered with pain (not in a bad way) of those who face the challenge of living life alone. Some suffered from loss of a town, job loss, homelessness, loss of a spouse, a child, or even loss of oneself. In one scene, Fern so much wishes upon being alone that when she finds an abandoned dog, she ties the dog to a table outside a shop and walks off, thereby averting any potentially sentimental moment of connection. When in trouble, they become masters of finding a way out, rarely calling anyone. And that’s where I can relate.

I spent much of Sunday in a chair, barely able to move. Regardless of position, my neck, shoulders, and chest. Anyone suffering cervical osteoarthritis gets accustomed to the sound or feeling of popping in the neck when moving. At ties, mine tends to sound like a garbage disposal in perpetual grind. Never forget to add that the ol’ ticker (my heart) dribbles in some momentary flickers of pain and reminds me that I am a mere mortal. One day, time will be up. But not today. In theory, I should have been able to reach out to someone, but hell, when you live a solitary life, the question I always seem to ask myself is, “Just who the hell do I call?”

Yes. I could have called my mother, but I did not. I could have called my former boss, and now theoretically my friend, but she tends to call when she requires something, as opposed to I requiring something. I could have meditated and summoned my recently deceased father, hoping a good conversation might liven up the moment, but I’ve only felt his presence once since departure. I shifted my eyes across the room. In doing so, I recognized that therein lay my problem; I am a solitary guy. Even though I have periods of loneliness like others, I embrace solitude. 

One aspect of living the secluded COVID-19 life is recognizing just how much the world fears being alone. Most fear being without companionship, whether family, friends, lovers, partner(s) or pets. There is a particular fear of walking alone. Past my first spouse, I never fully thrusted myself into anyone’s life. There was no ‘raging’ about ‘she did this’ or ‘she did that.’ I never had to access the ‘community’ to acknowledge or approve anything. Think about it, can one verifiably ‘smell the roses’ if no one can verify that you’ve verifiably ‘smelled the roses?’ 

To counter reclusively, many talk endlessly via FaceTime, Facebook, ‘Thatbook,’ ‘Thisbook,’ ‘Itbook,’ or whatever gizmo, gadget, or modern-day carrier pigeon available. A friend and his endlessly shared so much that they lost interest in each other, with each rushing home to play FarmVille, the agriculture-simulation social network game. I keep thinking, am I any lessor a man if I cannot share a picture of my spaghetti and meatballs, “Just like moms?” Of course, it’s not like moms. The grocery deli counter created the meatballs. And that sauce? Well, the sauce originated from a can, which originated from a factory, somewhere. Regardless, I managed to heat and combine the contents. Therefore, no one will ever know if I post a picture on the same said ‘Thatbook,’ ‘Thisbook,’ or ‘Itbook’ texting how wonderful this meal tastes. “Wish you were here.”

I don’t have a Facebook account. Neither do I have a ‘Thatbook,’ ‘Thisbook,’ nor ‘Itbook.’ And I never played Farmville. I don’t choose to hide behind a computer and devolve into depression. Of course, I share my thoughts via this blog; there is a physical community outside this building that consists of glimpses of those strolling walking paths near the lakeshore. Any who momentarily glance upward and notice may claim I live an idyllic life, sipping coffee, maybe a glass of bourbon, or a late meal overlooking the water. Others may stare and ponder that I look rather alone and question if any opportunities exist for a sense of community. 

Indeed, some will argue that being alone and in pain is a grim prospect in times like today. Sure there are days where I wonder what will kill me first, my neck or my heart, death by nerve compression, or death by heart attack. True, it’s a crappy choice, but it’s one which I must accept. The larger question is, can God still offer growth when I can barely move while simultaneously experiencing my heart lethargically beating to stillness? Of course. 

I meet with coworkers, clinical staff, and a support group. Therein, moments where authentic opportunities for ‘community’ percolate and a connection is afforded one-and-all. In the most difficult of times, each  character of Nomadland seemingly finds a spiritual companion inevitably arrives. And while these spiritual companions cannot always offer solutions to life-altering issues, sometimes, just being ‘present’ to listen is enough. When done, everyone is afforded the opportunity to reflect, to learn a lesson, and maybe move on. 

Just as in Nomadland, trekking alone affords many a lesson. First, you develop the strengths you need. It’s better to learn the power within your soul than to require another to ensure safety. Second, relationships grow stronger when not exclusively dependent. If one is in absolute need of another, then the relationship will fail. As such, I mindfully experience my own life more than others. The final lesson is essential: In a very Buddhist way, after all the losses suffered, the characters never say a final goodbye to their nomadic peers. They simply end the current cycle of life with, “I’ll see you down the road.”

“And out here, there’s a lot of people our age. Inevitably, there’s grief and loss. And a lot of ’em don’t get over it either. And that’s okay. That’s okay. One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road.” And I do. And whether it’s a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again. And I can look down the road and I can be certain in my heart that I’ll see my son again. You’ll see Bo (Fern’s husband) again. And you can remember your lives together then.”

~ Bob Wells, a wisened veteran traveler of the American highways in “Nomadland.” ~

Regardless of what happens on your trek or mine, I hope you will watch Nomadland. And with God’s grace, and a little luck, “I’ll see you down the road.