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His habit of reading isolated him: it became such a need that after being in company for some time he grew tired and restless; he was vain of the wider knowledge he had acquired from the perusal of so many books, his mind was alert, and he had not the skill to hide his contempt for his companions’ stupidity. They complained that he was conceited; and, since he excelled only in matters which to them were unimportant, they asked satirically what he had to be conceited about. He was developing a sense of humour, and found that he had a knack of saying bitter things, which caught people on the raw; he said them because they amused him, hardly realising how much they hurt, and was much offended when he found that his victims regarded him with active dislike. The humiliations he suffered when he first went to school had caused in him a shrinking from his fellows which he could never entirely overcome; he remained shy and silent. But though he did everything to alienate the sympathy of other boys he longed with all his heart for the popularity which to some was so easily accorded. These from his distance he admired extravagantly; and though he was inclined to be more sarcastic with them than with others, though he made little jokes at their expense, he would have given anything to change places with them.

You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.

From his earliest years Cincinnatus, by some strange and happy chance comprehending his danger, carefully managed to conceal a certain peculiarity. He was impervious to the rays of others, and therefore produced when off his guard a bizarre impression, as of a lone dark obstacle in the world of souls transparent to one other; he learned however to feign translucence, employing a complex system of optical illusions, as it were–but he had only to forget himself, to allow a momentary lapse in self control, in the manipulation of cunningly illuminated facets and angles at which he turned his soul, and immediately there was alarm. In the midst of the excitement of a game his coevals would suddenly forsake him, as if they had sensed that his lucid gaze and the azure of his temples were but a crafty deception and that actually Cincinnatus was opaque. Sometimes, in the midst of sudden silence, the teacher, in a chagrined perplexity, would gather up all the reserves of skin around his eyes, gaze at him for a long while and finally say: “What is wrong with you, Cincinnatus?” Then Cincinnatus would take hold of himself, and, clutching his own self to his breast, would remove that self to a safe place.

Acquainted with the NightI have been one acquainted with the night.I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.I have outwalked the furthest city light.I have looked down the saddest city lane.I have passed by the watchman on his beatAnd dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.I have stood still and stopped the sound of feetWhen far away an interrupted cryCame over houses from another street,But not to call me back or say good-bye;And further still at an unearthly height,One luminary clock against the skyProclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.I have been one acquainted with the night.

In my isolation, I dreamt of power. My daydreams and fantasies were all about how I could win, how I could be number one, how I could have my cake and eat it too. When those dreams were fulfilled, I felt nothing. The love-sized hole within me grew larger and larger as I died by my own hand, by my own mind. During my transformation, I found what I needed to fill the hole. I found peace, joy, and connection. To power, I waved goodbye. I thought that being a loving, spiritual being meant sacrificing that triumph-hungry drive within. For much too long, I ignored these urges, believing them to be the opposite of love while I cycled in and out of love awareness. The day that my love mindset became a permanent state of mind was the day I realized that love is not the opposite of power. Love is power. Love is the strongest power there is.

Maybe the real issue here is that we were not created to do life by ourselves. We were not given a sentence of solitary confinement and placed in a world of isolation, but from the moment we entered this human experience, it was clear there was a world waiting to be discovered, creatures which were there for our interaction. And the spark inside us often has to be spoken to, to be touched by the soul of another. It’s as if the spark is only visible through the lens of night vision, a set of goggles which only another human being can hand to us.

And there’s one other matter I must raise. The epidemic of domestic sexual violence that lacerates the soul of South Africa is mirrored in the pattern of grotesque raping in areas of outright conflict from Darfur to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in areas of contested electoral turbulence from Kenya to Zimbabwe. Inevitably, a certain percentage of the rapes transmits the AIDS virus. We don’t know how high that percentage is. We know only that women are subjected to the most dreadful double jeopardy.The point must also be made that there’s no such thing as the enjoyment of good health for women who live in constant fear of rape. Countless strong women survive the sexual assaults that occur in the millions every year, but every rape leaves a scar; no one ever fully heals.This business of discrimination against and oppression of women is the world’s most poisonous curse. Nowhere is it felt with greater catastrophic force than in the AIDS pandemic. This audience knows the statistics full well: you’ve chronicled them, you’ve measured them, the epidemiologists amongst you have disaggregated them. What has to happen, with one unified voice, is that the scientific community tells the political community that it must understand one incontrovertible fact of health: bringing an end to sexual violence is a vital component in bringing an end to AIDS.The brave groups of women who dare to speak up on the ground, in country after country, should not have to wage this fight in despairing and lonely isolation. They should hear the voices of scientific thunder. You understand the connections between violence against women and vulnerability to the virus. No one can challenge your understanding. Use it, I beg you, use it.

You end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself. Solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments. When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are. It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we’re at risk, because actually it’s the opposite that’s true.