For two weeks at the end of May, eighteen years ago, I had absolutely no obligations to anyone but myself. It was a unique moment in time, one that has never been repeated. After my final exams, there were two weeks before commencement. I had to stay for commencement, but only because I was a member of the choir - I was a frosh. For two weeks I had no classes, no boyfriend (he was three states away), no friends, no enemies, no family - absolutely no one and nothing that I was obligated to do. It was a stark contrast with my normal life, which I tend to stuff to the brim with obligations. Instead I slept, read, took walks, ate when I felt like it, and generally lived a quiet, somewhat contemplative life for two weeks.
I found that within only a few days a number of remarkable changes took place. I had a clean room that stayed clean the entire two weeks - something that has never happened before or since. I went to bed as soon as the sun went down, and got up at sunrise - ditto. I barely even remember eating - I only did it when I was hungry, and otherwise didn't think much about it. I volutarily took long walks around the local lake, meandering along, with or without book in hand. In short, I relaxed - deep, visceral relaxation. It's one of the few times in my life at that age (HS through college) that I don't remember having regular self-hate sessions. I talked to my parents on the phone perhaps once. My boyfriend a time or two more than that. I wasn't in the least lonely, I discovered, because there was no one there. Lonliness for me, seems to have little to do with being alone, and everything to do with being near people who don't acknowledge my existence, for whatever reason.
It was an enlightening couple of weeks. It's a period of time I wish I could duplicate, even as I realize how incredibly privileged I was to experience it even once. Toss in an obligation and my tension seems to immediately return, and yet life is obligations. I'm bound to my husband and children, to my friends, to paying a mortgage and putting dinner on the table. In order to have made a life that in any way resembled those two weeks, I would have to have consciously carved away my responsibilities - and I would not voluntarily give them up.
Still I understand what drove Thoreau to Walden. I have never felt closer to myself than in those two quiet weeks. The challenge is to find the spirit of them under the noise of daily life.