Some people crave privacy, others the company of others. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, yearned for solitude. Crowded in barracks and observed constantly by guards, prisoners were never alone. Frankl wrote: "It is well known that an enforced community life, in which attention is paid to everything one does at all times, may result in an irresistible urge to get away, at least for a short while. The prisoner craved to be alone with himself and his thoughts." (Man's Search for Meaning, 61).
Fr. Walter Ciszek spent almost thirty years in the Soviet gulag, five of those years in the brutal Lubyanka prison in Moscow and many more in absolute confinement. The Catholic priest had been arrested and convicted as a spy, forced to do hard labor. His incredible story can be read in With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me. Ciszek, as opposed to Frankl, desired the presence of a fellow human being. "It was impossible to be a loner in the prison camps; a man either had friends to keep him going, or he didn't survive" (With God in Russia, 197). He also wrote: "the psychological need, bred of prolonged isolation and silence, to talk to a fellow sufferer unceasingly, hour after hour, about everything and anything, was unbearable" (He Leadeth Me, 51). Solitary confinement was the worst part of Ciszek's hellish experience, worse than any torture, interrogation, backbreaking labor, or hunger. Hell, to Ciszek, was a sort of isolation: the soul left unto nothing but itself.
The experience of the two prisoners captures two basic needs. We need relationships, yet we also need solitude, especially to pray and encounter God. May we find balance, lest we become unhappy prisoners.