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Meditation V


AS sickness is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sickness is solitude; when the infectiousness of the disease deters them who should assist from coming; even the physician dares scarce come. Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itself. Mere vacuity, the first agent, God, the first instrument of God, nature, will not admit; nothing can be utterly empty, but so near a degree towards vacuity as solitude, to be but one, they love not. When I am dead, and my body might infect, they have a remedy, they may bury me; but when I am but sick, and might infect, they have no remedy but their absence, and my solitude. It is an excuse to them that are great, and pretend, and yet are loath to come; it is an inhibition to those who would truly come, because they may be made instruments, and pestiducts, to the infection of others, by their coming. And it is an outlawry, an excommunication upon the patient, and separates him from all offices, not only of civility but of working charity. A long sickness will weary friends at last, but a pestilential sickness averts them from the beginning. God himself would admit a figure of society, as there is a plurality of persons in God, though there be but one God; and all his external actions testify a love of society, and communion. In heaven there are orders of angels, and armies of martyrs, and in that house many mansions; in earth, families, cities, churches, colleges, all plural things; and lest either of these should not be company enough alone, there is an association of both, a communion of saints which makes the militant and triumphant church one parish; so that Christ was not out of his diocess when he was upon the earth, nor out of his temple when he was in our flesh. God, who saw that all that he made was good, came not so near seeing a defect in any of his works, as when he saw that it was not good for man to be alone, therefore he made him a helper; and one that should help him so as to increase the number, and give him her own, and more society. Angels, who do not propagate nor multiply, were made at first in an abundant number, and so were stars; but for the things of this world, their blessing was, Increase; for I think, I need not ask leave to think, that there is no phoenix; nothing singular, nothing alone. Men that inhere upon nature only, are so far from thinking that there is any thing singular in this world, as that they will scarce think that this world itself is singular, but that every planet, and every star, is another world like this; they find reason to conceive not only a plurality in every species in the world, but a plurality of worlds; so that the abhorrers of solitude are not solitary, for God, and Nature, and Reason concur against it. Now a man may counterfeit the plague in a vow, and mistake a disease for religion, by such a retiring and recluding of himself from all men as to do good to no man, to converse with no man. God hath two testaments, two wills; but this is a schedule, and not of his, a codicil, and not of his, not in the body of his testaments, but interlined and postscribed by others, that the way to the communion of saints should be by such a solitude as excludes all doing of good here. That is a disease of the mind, as the height of an infectious disease of the body is solitude, to be left alone: for this makes an infectious bed equal, nay, worse than a grave, that though in both I be equally alone, in my bed I know it, and feel it, and shall not in my grave: and this too, that in my bed my soul is still in an infectious body, and shall not in my grave be so.

John Donne