If the COVID-19 pandemic has you locked in all by yourself or almost alone, you must be wondering how long you can take it. Looking into recent history, I can cite you a few examples that will encourage you to believe you can last a long time.
In the first case, the time alone isn’t so long, but the circumstances are extreme.
On May 21, 1927, 25-year-old U.S. airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh flew his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, 3,600 miles from New York to Paris. He was the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. He was shooting for the $25,000 Orteig prize. Six others had died trying.
Lingbergh was in the air for 33½ hours, but hadn’t slept for 55 hours. What didn’t he have on the plane? A co-pilot to talk to and to let him take a nap, and a toilet to let him take care of his bathroom needs. How he managed, I can’t imagine. The flight made Lindbergh world famous. But being alone for 33½ hours is no big deal. Any of us could do it.
In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer with a background in zoology, botany and geography, sailed and drifted 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft called the Kon-Tiki, made of balsa wood and papyrus reeds, from Polynesia to South America to prove how ancient people probably got to South America hundreds of years earlier. (There as still come doubt about his theory.)
The voyage took 101 days but it wasn’t solo. Heyerdahl had five other Norwegians on the raft. You can imagine the conversation:
Day 10: “Windy today”
Day 30: “Still windy”
Day 50: “Pass the pickled herring.”
“We ran out yesterday.”
Day 80: “When we gonna get there?”
“Who knows, wind’s been blowing the wrong way for two weeks.”
Days 90-101: More of the same chatter.
Heyerdahl made it for the last 51 days on sparse conversation and no pickled herring and so can you. Any of us can do it.
Then in June 2008, Zac Sunderland, a 16-year-old boy from California, launched his 36-foot sailboat named Intrepid, bought for $6,500 from money saved from after-school jobs, and sailed around the world – solo − in 13 months. He was the youngest person to achieve that feat; he was still too young to vote when he landed. All without any companions, outboard motor, Facebook or pickled herring. He had one year of high school to finish when he left, but took his books along and finished his diploma work while sailing. If this kid could stand to be alone for 13 months, any of us could do it.
My final example of going solo, or without Norwegians, is Laura Dekker, a 16-year-old girl from the Netherlands who broke the record and became the youngest to sail around the world by sailing in her 40-foot Guppy sailboat from Gibraltar to St. Martin. The distance was 6,400 miles and the voyage took 518 days. Dekker, who had her 17th birthday at sea, spent all that time alone – no smartphone, no girlfriends, no boyfriends, no parties and no Facebook.
If she could handle 518 days alone, so could we. The point is that for some, being alone can be a blessing. The person you get to know in solitude is probably the most interesting and important person in your life. When Lindbergh, Heyerdahl, Zac Sunderland and Laura Dekker were alone, they were truly living. Solitude can be rewarding without an airplane or a sailboat.
Henry David Thoreau, who lived alone simply for two years in the woods in a one-room cabin, wrote about his experience: “I went to the woods ... to see if I could not learn what (the life in the woods) had to teach and not, when I came to die, discovered that I had not lived.”
The moral of the story is this: get acquainted with yourself while you’re alone. The experience may be the best of your life. You may turn out to be twice the person at the end of the pandemic that you were at the beginning.