I let the steam escape from my coffee cup, absentmindedly watching it rise as I drum my fingers over my keyboard and contemplate my next sentence. I pause and glance at the man distractedly scrolling through his email as his fork scrapes up the last crumbs of a scone. He’s in his own world, self-absorbed and completely ignoring me. I smile.
I’ve come to savor these blissful days of solitary relaxation, rare moments of peace to break up the chaos of day-to-day life. Almost every Saturday, I set aside time to explore one of Berkeley’s many coffee houses, backpack slung over my shoulder with quiet hours stretching full in front of me. There’s something luxuriously rejuvenating about spending an afternoon in a cafe, a place made small and personal for the weary to take their rest. Conversation isn’t expected, and a shared appreciation for the sanctity of personal space permeates each interaction. It’s good to hear myself think.
Society says it’s wrong to want to be alone, because tables and chairs come in twos and fours, and no one wants to be the odd one out. Outside designated areas of individual thought, like cafes or museums, alone means lonely — and that can’t be right. So we hover outside of doorways, waiting for friends to show up before we knock so that we might enter together. We crow with pride over our color-coordinated Google Calendars, penciling in lunches to fill any dreaded white space. We walk through crowded sidewalks and busy our eyes with the phones in our hands, if only to pretend there’s someone responding on the other side.
We hate being alone. But without periods of introspection and self-discovery, it becomes difficult to characterize yourself beyond the confines of a collective social identity. As we transition into adulthood, now more than ever is the time to seek out alcoves of personal space. Our most formative years are upon us. There’s this in-between phase of soul-searching, an effort to make sense of what life is and where it’s going. I feel like I’m stuck in limbo, still feebly clinging onto the remnants of childhood but grudgingly relinquishing control to the adult I see myself becoming — the adult I want to become. As I plod toward my future, I realize how rewarding it is to make genuine connections with others, but I’m also learning to appreciate the fierce joy and pride that comes with self-discovery.
You can’t build a relationship with someone if you never spend time with them, and even more so with yourself. So I’m learning that time alone isn’t a waste, but an investment — I’m learning that it’s okay to be still and have nothing to say. That sometimes I prefer it when my lips stay shut for hours on end. There’s a calmness that comes with the stripping away of the clamor and clang of day to day life. There’s a freedom that comes with just sitting and seeing — just being. It’s a stillness that is increasingly rare in the whirlwind of busyness we create for ourselves.
When I’m here, it’s all too easy to run into someone — and everyone — I know. On Sproul, after class, on the 51B back from Trader Joe’s, I’m constantly reminded to position myself in relation to others, which makes my time alone all the more distinct and pleasant — so I’m thankful for the moments I hold to myself, and for that, I’ll treasure my Saturdays.
Over the course of several hours, I spoke to the man with the scone only briefly.
“What’s the Wi-Fi password?” I asked.
He told it to me.
He dipped his head to acknowledge my remark, and we retreated back into mutual solitude with the understanding that though our spaces were shared, they were unequivocally, gratefully, ours.