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Editor’s Note: Missioner Annemarie Barrett reflects on how accepting silence and solitude led her to a better understanding of herself as well as the other people around her.

There is a quote from the popular feminist author, bell hooks, that says, “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”

When I started FMS formation over four years ago, I did not expect loneliness and solitude to be such common elements of the journey we were beginning.

I knew we were flying far away from all of our family and friends and our own culture. But it seemed fairly simple. I trusted that there would be more friends to meet, a new culture to learn from, and a community to discover as a growing extended family.

But I soon discovered that this was not the same transition that I went through when I was 19 and moved to Chicago for college. It was not even the same as the time I studied abroad for four months in El salvador. It was completely different and there was no roadmap for how to fight the loneliness.

And so I learned to make friends with feeling lonely.

The loneliness meant more silence, more patience, more self-awareness, and more reflection. It also meant more discomfort, humility, questioning, and accepting slow answers.

Annemarie during a retreat at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in Tarata

Annemarie during a retreat at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in Tarata, Bolivia

Since I was a little girl I enjoyed the company of many friends. I enjoyed an active social life and solitude and loneliness left me feeling ashamed. I worried about what solitude and loneliness would say about me.

But then I learned to change my perspective.

In the midst of the solitude and loneliness, I wondered how being surrounded by people served me, what did the lack of loneliness leave out or hide?

Moving past the fear of loneliness, made connecting with personal growth possible.

The silence taught me to be with myself, all of myself, and accept that self . The loneliness taught me to love myself and my own company. The solitude taught me to better appreciate the company of others.

And the humility I gained taught me to be more honest about how normal loneliness is. Once I learned that I was lonely, I recognized that others were lonely too. I learned that loneliness is part of being human. And as bell hooks said, that lesson has been central to me learning how to love.

How do you deal with silence and loneliness? How could learning to embrace silence and solitude bring growth in your life? How could you learn to connect in the midst of loneliness?