Catholic monk, author, and mystic Thomas Merton reflects here on the relationship between love and solitude. Our culture has put these two in opposition to each other–to be alone is to be loveless, to be loved is to never be lonely. Merton understand the connection quite differently.
All I know is that here I am, and the valley is very quiet, the sun is going down, there is no human being around, and as darkness falls I could easily be a completely forgotten person, as if I did not exist for the world at all. (Though there is one who remembers and whom I remember.) The day could easily come when I would be just as invisible as if I never existed, and still be living up here on this hill. … And I know that I would be perfectly content to be so.
Who knows anything at all about solitude if he has not been in love, and in love in his solitude? Love and solitude must test each other in the one who means to live alone: they must become one and the same thing in him, or he will only be half a person. Unless I have you with me always, in some very quiet and perfect way, I will never be able to live fruitfully alone. –Thomas Merton
From Learning to Love, edited by Christine M. Bochen (Harper SanFrancisco, 1997, p. 314-315)