Solitudes That Meet

At Fall Convocation, Creative Writing Professor Dee Matthews spoke about the path back from isolation.

“Over the course of the past 18 months, I imagine you’ve all experienced your individual solitudes as the world turned extraordinarily clamorous and every human being from metropolis to village inwardly struggled through the inherent anxiety of a global pandemic.…And now, we are all returning to campus after a brave journey and trying to carve out a new normal. The question, it seems, is how, after living and learning in our respective solitudes, might we be able to merge as a living and learning community?

"And, as I am wont to do when unsure of an answer, I turned to some of my closest friends, many of whom happen to be dead but live on in my favorite books. One such book is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. In it, he wrote, ‘Don’t let your solitude obscure the presence of something within it that wants to emerge. Precisely this presence will help your solitude expand.’

"When I first read that line, I wondered what it meant to have one’s solitude expand? As I mulled over possibilities, I came to believe that Rilke was suggesting that to expand our solitudes means welcoming others into our world. In fact, he later wrote in the same book: ‘love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet
each other.’

"Surely, we inhabit our own distinct worlds with separate histories, lineages, beliefs, capabilities, identities, wounds, scars, victories, and triumphs. The challenge I offer today is that you recognize your distinctions as being a valuable part of a larger community. What makes each one of you who you are is important here at Bryn Mawr College because it is Bryn Mawr College. We are an amalgam—a continual joining of solitudes, situated together in time and space to mutually share our experiences and what knowledge we’ve gleaned from our journeys.

"We need each other to do the very human work of connecting and learning so that we may be of service to our goals and to someone else’s. Love—the kind that Rilke wrote about, the kind that meets, greets, and protects each other—is the only path back from the isolations this pandemic has wrought, and we’ve seen this love happening all around us from small to large scale.

"Think about it: the reason why we mask is to protect others—that’s love. The reason why you’re here is to offer a possibility to someone else or partially owing to someone else’s sacrifice for you—that’s love. The scientists who studied COVID-19 a decade before this pandemic to develop a spike protein to be used in vaccines—that’s love. The poll workers who risked their own health to make sure people had their vote counted—that’s love.…And in each heroic demonstration of patience, close listening, intellectual curiosity, peace-seeking, tolerance, acceptance of difference, and empathy, you, too, are practicing a love that leads not only to your liberation, but another’s as well.

"Bryn Mawr, the time is at hand to cultivate the community we’ve hoped for and to strengthen the community we’ve come to love. May we never take togetherness for granted. May we act with intention, authentic care, and attention. May your solitude call out to another solitude and never fear meeting, greeting, and protecting each other. May we move from this moment to the next being sure of this: Alone, we are smart, strong, and capable.

"Together, we are Bryn Mawr—a force of sheer possibility—limitless, expansive, regenerative, and brimming with a love that liberates. May it always be so.”