On the Joy of Being a Recluse (Ma Tov Lihiyot Mitboded)

The English word “recluse” is often defined as a person who lives a solitary life and tends to avoid other people. I’m not one hundred percent certain that the word completely applies to me.  Well…. Only maybe a little bit.

When my wife was alive we travelled together, socialized with many dear friends together, mainly in Israel where the bonds of friendship are largely life-long and sacred. We would pray together, cook together, enjoy our meals together, share the joys of parenthood and grand-parenthood together, dream of happier, healthier lives extending into old age together… not ever a moment of loneliness.

Following her death almost two years ago I have withdrawn from much of what we shared together. Nobody and nothing can replace those happy years.

Some time ago, at the Sukkot dinner of friends, one of them took me aside and whispered: “why don’t you call the woman sitting next to you? She is a widow, her husband was a doctor, she is self-sufficient money-wise, lives close to you, has much in common with you, speaks several languages, enjoys traveling. Invite her out for a cup of coffee. Just for companionship. You don’t have to marry her. But I think you should consider it”.

I was furious and wanted to spill my cup of coffee on his lap. Who was he to interfere in my private life? After the death of his wife of many years, a woman whom he deeply loved, he met and married another lovely woman a year later and could not cease from regaling me of the many joys they shared together.

“Matchmakers” are abundant. Not professional shadchanim but well-meaning friends, neighbors, associates, who would like to see me happy again.

I was happy for 56 years with the one and only woman I had ever known and loved. No woman can ever replace her. None will.

So, have I really become a recluse? Since I am enjoying my life as it is, I think not.

In his 2014 book “The Recluse Option,” Dr. Marty Nemko describes some of the advantages of being reclusive. “You wake up when you want to, go to sleep when you want to, eat what and when you want to.  If you have enough money, you don’t need to look for a job. You can take a long hike with the dog in the middle of the day “.

Actually, it is my dog who takes me for a walk.  A sabra born in Jerusalem, she, like most Israelis, is fiercely independent and stubborn. It is she who decides when and where we will walk !

Dr. Nemko admires  the recluse who can watch television to whatever program he alone chooses and he alone can decide when and where to travel on a vacation.  He realizes that most recluses can include some friendships including members of the family. But in his words he writes that “a full-fledged recluse often believes that friends and family are more trouble than they are worth.  Yes—it’s selfish, but recluses decide it’s fair.  They’re not imposing on others and they don’t want others imposing on them.”

But the one statement in Dr. Nemko’s book which really “speaks” to me is his concluding remark”

“A recluse can be very generous. By avoiding others he can spend the time on things that would be of more help to humankind. He can write a book or an article that would help other people”.

So since that is what exactly what I have been doing, I guess it’s not so bad to be a recluse after all.

And with three wonderful children with great love, caring, compassion and devotion, . it is quite frankly very difficult…nigh impossible… to call myself a recluse.

Lonely? Always. Depressed? Sometimes. Despondent? Never !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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