Finding the inner life of being alone

Finding the inner life of being alone Author José María Olaizola
Dancing with Loneliness by José María R. Olaizola SJ Messenger Publication, (€12.95/£11.95)

The author of this book is a Spanish Jesuit, who is presently head of institutional communications for the Society of Jesus in Spain (which means in effect, when you think about it, the whole Spanish speaking world, which I realised during the translation of one of my own books a while ago now includes North America as a significant market).

This points to one of the great appeals of this book. It is written from inside Hispanic culture. The references are (largely) to films from the same culture and to such things as the traditional characteristics assigned by people from particular Spanish provinces.

The pleasant surprise of reading a book which did not see the world through the dominant Anglo-American culture of the internet was a great and pleasant surprise.

The key to this book, the author suggests, is a remark by the philosopher Paul Tillich. He said that language created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone as it created the word “solitude” to express “the glory of being alone”.


Loneliness, we would all agree, is a terrible thing: the old lady speechless in a corner of a nursing home common room, a life of memories (however shattered) still to be expressed; the small child on the edge of the school playground the victim of bullying which is commonplace in school in ways parents have forgotten. These are loneliness states that are classed as “vicious” by the author.

Though there is another kind of loneliness which many find hard to comprehend: the loneliness of the artist, the poet, the writer, the philosopher.

For people like these, isolation is an essential factor of life. I realise this in my own life. Some of my friends are accustomed to going walking together. But I have never liked that. I relish my solitary walks as moments for thought and contemplation.

It amazes me how very little people, even people claiming to be lonely, actually observe the immediate world around them: the trees, gardens, animals, wild and tame, the changing conditions of the area. Loneliness for the creative person is a necessity of life: team membership is certainly not for all.

In seeking out his examples Jose Olaizola eschews a constant reference to academic sources, preferring examples from life. He is writing for the ordinary reader and not for his peers. He is writing for me.

He speaks of “life and expertise” as “a tortuous tango”. I have recently been pursuing research into an Argentinean topic, and the tango in Latin countries has a status which is very difficult to convey. It is indeed a complex dance, but one which it is said to belong to ordinary people in the slums of Buenos Aires. It arises from people’s own hearts and minds. They are the makers, the performers, and the audience. It celebrates an end to isolation.

This is a book rich with insight that cannot be easily summarised. It is a book which seizes hold, however, and one finds oneself recalling and mulling over it in a fruitful way later.

Reading Jose Olaizola those moments all came pouring back into my memory. This I suspect will be the experience of many other readers. This is a wonderful and fruitful book, which can be recommended warmly, even given the sobering nature of his subject. One looks forward to other titles from the author’s pen.