Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.
I was watching my 4-year-old grandson playing by himself, completely absorbed with his miniature brigade of pirates and perfectly content to be left alone for hours with only his imagination to keep him company.
It brought me back to some of my earliest memories when I was about his age and left to my own devices, conjuring up a separate world with all sorts of characters and high adventures. As much as I liked playing with my brothers and the kids in the neighborhood, I remember so clearly treasuring my moments alone.
In my childhood there were the day-long excursions in the mountains near our home with hours of exploring whatever came into view or grasp. There were very special trees that had the most accommodating branches for climbing and for building my own little fortress of solitude, way up high. When I really needed to be alone, that was my place.
I'd like to believe that we are by nature social creatures. Anyone who has ever experienced loneliness —and who among us hasn't — will agree with that. But as much as we derive comfort from each other, there is that other part of our nature, manifested very early in our lives, that is comfortable in solitude as well.
The thought is expressed beautifully by Paul Tillich in his book "Courage to Be," where he writes, "Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."
One of the absolute essentials of my life is to have time to myself. Time to collect scattered thoughts, time for quiet contemplation, time to think things through, or time to just go along at my own pace. It's a very reasonable demand of the body and the mind that I disengage from everything and everyone occasionally. As much as I need the company of others, it is often when I am alone that I feel fully myself.
I still like to break away on my own and wander to places that invite exploration. I'm less inclined to climb trees these days, but the stars seem just as close and glorious from the backyard porch. Left alone to contemplate the incomprehensible, I find, if even for a moment, respite from the madness and the mundane of an outer world.
Sometimes when I enter an empty room alone, the door closes behind me with a sweet chime of relief. The mind and body feel free of all constraints and pretensions, of all pressures to please and impress and entertain other people. No need for structure or time management, no pressing duties or urgent matters, nothing to clutter a mind in need of disengagement.
Last year at about this time, I spent many days in bed with pneumonia and was separated for long hours from family, friends and my students. What I discovered when I wasn't in physical distress (and feeling sorry for myself) was the absolute splendor of no static from the outside.
Being cut off from a few weeks' worth of news and unplugged from its calamities and carnage that are its mainstays, is a very special kind of therapy. I was reminded that nothing is really missed by failing to keep current with events that are more like a never-ending soap opera, and that while some people noted my absence, everything and everyone managed to get along quite nicely without me.
I found also that there is nothing like a serious illness to cause one to reflect on one's mortality and the precious, all-too-brief time that we have here on this Earth. I discovered that I don't need to be bedridden to enjoy the immeasurable delight that comes from being unproductive and having the freedom to daydream, to open the senses or close them down, to process the past or make plans for the future, or just simply be in the world as it is.
I think back to thousands of students with bright eyes and shining faces that would occasionally stare off into space and be lost momentarily to whatever learning objective I was promoting. How often the teacher in me wanted to command their attention, and yet now, upon reflection, how better I might have served them by leaving them alone in their occasional moments of private reverie.
We all need those occasional intermissions from developing our minds and honing our social skills, and whether that involves imagining tiny pirates walking the plank or contemplating our place in the universe, there is that inner place in our minds wherein imagination resides and creativity is born, and it beckons to us for as long as we are of this world.
DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.
FOR THE RECORD: A sentence in this piece was plagiarized from a January 2004 piece in Natural Health titled “Time alone: putting a bit of solitude into your life is essential to your health and happiness” by Frances Lefowitz.