I just read a blog from Amy Sue Nathan about the 10 Joys of an Empty Nest. With some interest and reflection, I noticed that she said that it was the first time she’d ever lived alone. Interesting…not exactly a new phenomenon since the number of individuals in the USA living in single home dwellings is now at 9% of total households and as high as 40% in big cities such as Manhattan and San Francisco.
I have reflected on this since working to coordinate student rural rotations for social work and medical students. A significant number of students surprised me at their unease in “living alone” in rural areas. We had a great house for students…certainly not isolated in my thinking. I love the rural life. I love living on a back road, isolated among the trees. The night skies and the stars without the glare or noise from the streets are as soothing for me as a soapy warm bath.
To my utter astonishment, even though I had cable TV, four land-line phones in the house and I always scheduled at least two students in the house at a time, the fact that they couldn’t get a cell phone connection completely undid them. That, on top of the dark, the lack of street noise, and what they perceived as a significant distance from the next dwelling had many of them driving a daily four hour commute to the city instead of staying overnight during their month rotation.
Our program didn’t do a lot to encourage more medical doctors to set up shop in rural locations. There are, of course, countless other reasons that contribute to that problem, but I was struck by the number of young people who not only seemed uncomfortable, but actually scared of the silence. Have noise, activity and having our social network connected to our hip now become so much a part of our DNA, that we go into withdrawal without them or do I just come from another time? I wonder.