“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.” – Orson Welles.
This past week I’ve heard two different people say some form of the above quote. I never thought about it much before. I’ve probably even said it myself in the past. But for some reason, this week, it wrangled with me.
To be honest I had no idea it was a quote from Orson Welles. I thought it was just one of those melodramatic phrases that people pick up and regurgitate for effect.
My issue with it is the following.
Is there ever a time in our lives when we are less alone than the moment at which we’re born? I certainly can’t think of one.
We are physically connected to another human being. Physically connected by an actual life-giving cord.
Not only this, but we are also the centre of everyone’s attention. The parents, the doctors and nurses, the extended family, the well-wishers. Hands all over us. Resources devoted to us.
In a single instant, we become the most important thing in the lives of two people. Supposedly, they are consumed by a degree of love they did not know they were capable of feeling. How can being the recipient of such unconditional love leave one so alone?
All this happens at the very moment of our birth.
Of course not all births fit this mould. Yet even in the most tragic scenarios imaginable, must the mother not still be physically present? She may not be present willingly, she may resent the child, but she’s still present. The baby is never born alone.
Perhaps I’m arguing semantics and forgetting poetic licence in a foolhardy pursuit of truth. It wouldn’t be the first time.
My gut instinct, however, is that people throw this phrase around because it sounds good. It sounds dramatic, but also stoic. They don’t really care whether it’s true or not.
What I haven’t heard (yet) is someone repeating the next line from Welles.
“Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
That line holds truth. That line holds power. Yet not without the first. The juxtaposition of such pessimism and optimism is what’s so striking to me. Each line needs the other to function properly.
And therein lies the message. Whether we are in fact born alone matters not. What matters is what we, as animals capable of this thing called love, do from that point on.