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‘Solitaire, solidaire’

‘Solitaire, solidaire’
‘Solitaire, solidaire’
Dr. Wayne Willis

Victor Hugo said that all his life could be summed up in a two-word rhyme: “solitaire, solidaire.” The French consider Hugo the quintessential wordsmith, their greatest writer. At his 1885 funeral in Paris, more than two million joined the processional from the Arc of Triumph to the Pantheon.

Hugo’s rhyme, “Solitaire, solidaire,” capsulizes two of our most fundamental needs. One is our desire to be one, independent, unique, different, able to stand alone. The other is our desire to be one with others, to be in relationship, to belong to a community, to have close friends.

We witness the power of solidarity in a Weight Watchers or an Alcoholics Anonymous group, a church or a Rotary club. The part of us that craves intimacy, being connected, close to kindred spirits, is solidaire.

Another part of us needs time to be alone, to play a game of solitaire, to take a walk in the woods or to pray. In a time of plague, the discipline to stay separate from crowds for an extended period can be a lifesaver.

Schopenhauer tells the parable of porcupines huddling together on a cold night to keep warm. Whenever they try to get close, they needle each other with their quills, so they back off and shiver some more. They continue to shuffle back and forth until they find a comfortable position for warming each other without getting punctured.

Our lives, like the porcupines, shuffle back and forth between closeness and distance, intimacy and going solo. In a time of plague, having the self-control to stay at least six feet from the madding crowd, whether at the beach or a grocery check-out line, may prevent us from inadvertently delivering a deadly virus to someone else. Or, that life we save, staying home alone, could be our own.