Loneliness Transformed

Today Tom returns after more than 3 weeks away.  Three weeks is a long time.  A friend therapist of mine once described the process of having her husband away like this:  
"The first week feels pretty good; it’s fun to be on my own and feel independent.  The second week I start missing him.  The third week I am pissed off that he isn’t home, and when he asks 'how are you?' on the phone, I immediately think 'well, if you really cared, you would be here.'"

That seemed to capture the rough outlines of my experience too.  When I moved to DC to be married with Tom, I did it so quickly, I never considered that we’d be apart for long stretches like this, let alone how it would make me feel.  And, it turns out, it felt pretty bad.

This time I tried a different approach. I listened to my dear friend Anchi Mei who wrote this in one of her e-mails during my last husband-less stretch:

"You can and also make new friends and acquaintances and keep pursuing new relationships and create social connections wherever you are. But, I think the crying comes from a different, deeper place. And that sadness can exist alongside a  different happiness and peace with the friends who are currently in your life. And maybe one day it will dissipate.  Or maybe that loneliness will remain your most steadfast friend."

Ah, yes.  Those words were like a salve.  Anchi, like me, is an only child of immigrant parents.  We’ve known each other for 20 years, and in that time, have both had extensive flirtations with loneliness.  

“Of course! I can do this. It’s time to make friends with it.  I can’t be running away from it any more.”  I knew.

And so I did.  Every time I heard the voice that said something like “You are alone.  You should be with friends.  You should get busy doing something.  See, no one is calling you and asking you to hang out...”  I took a deep breath and let that thought go.  Let it dissolve.  Then I’d take out my drawing pad or the guitar and immerse myself in the aloneness of my experience.  And it felt great!  When people did ask me to hang out, I actually chose not to.  It felt rich to be alone.  Somehow it felt like that was what I needed.   I began to crave being alone.  

I talked to my boss, a self-proclaimed “zen guy” and the Head of our Episcopal School, about this experience and he gave me the word “solitude.”  I realized I was transforming loneliness into solitude.  And solitude felt nourishing.  

So today Tom comes home, and I am so looking forward to his arrival.  But for the first time, it’s a pure welcome without resentment.  It is with deep gratitude for this experience.

Birthday Party for One

Save the cards that arrived days before.  
Leave them unopened.
Pick up one gluten-free cupcake.
Ride bicycle home slowly. 
Savoring the warm air.
It may be the last of the year.  
Arrange cards, packages, flowers on the dinner table.
Throw together a salad.
Take it all in.
Flip through New Yorker.  
Savor the feta and chicken on spinach.
Wash it down with flat wine.
Finish with sweet chocolate-y cake.
Open the card from your dear friend, your teacher.
Her handwriting shows her age.
Her words her wisdom:
“Cherish each other and all that you do!”
Card from mom. Saccharine. Real.
Grandmother’s confession:
“I write how much I spent on bread and milk, but I haven’t marked the date of your birth, my only, my favorite granddaughter. I am ashamed.  I hope this reaches you in time.”
You cry. 
You wail for your grandmother’s decline.
Or is it for your loneliness?

Taking stock

Home.  That was the impetus for starting this blog.  The search for home.  We all know that it’s more complicated than at what address one lives.  And at last count, I’d lived at 17.  To that, I’ll add two more, and arrive at the address where Tom and I currently reside.  We have lived here for 2.4 years now.  It is our home.  It is what adults in this country strive for - to buy a home.  Each of us have already owned a property prior to this, a condo of some sort, but this free-standing house, with a garden, a driveway, on a tree-lined street, is the first and only one we bought together.  And although we’ve settled in with all kinds of mixed feelings and tribulations, it is our home.  

It is where we’d like to start a family.  Which brings me to the second aspect of home: family.  Beyond just an address, a physical space, there are the people who make up one’s home.  Sure, one can live alone, and feel at home.  Both Tom and I have done it.  But as a married unit, we are an intrinsic part of each other’s home.  We like that. 
And we’d like to expand.  Whether that means having our own or adopting, we’d like to stretch the boundary of what home means.  That is the journey we’ve been on for a while now, since shortly after we moved into this new home of ours.  I know from my previous 25 years of searching for home, that that journey is never easy or straight forward.  It is full of curves, hills, and plateaus.  And so it would appear it is with this: expanding the meaning of home to small individuals beyond Tom and me. 

Summer Solstice Manifesto

Summer & Winter Solstices are easily the most under rated holidays on the calendar.  How can we let the longest and shortest days of the year slip by without paying them proper respect?  Shouldn’t kids be running around the street with cups of lemonade and sparklers?  Neighborhood barbecues with music and fireflies flitting about in the darkening humidity of the late evening ? Maybe next year.
This year I celebrated summer solstice on my own, but sweetly.  I picked flowers from our garden and placed them on the altar along with dates and almonds as an offering.  I chanted Gayatri Mantra 108 times and then sat for some time.  The Gayatri Mantra is traditionally chanted when one lights candles, watches the sunset or the sunrise.  It is a mantra which helps focus the mind onto the light within us, and ask for its guidance.  
With two months of summer vacation stretching gloriously ahead of me, I asked for guidance on how to spend such precious time.  This is what came to me.

This summer:
I grow deeper roots
I blossom creatively
I become healthier and stronger.

Yes, corny, but it rings true with meaning.  And it becomes my summer solstice manifesto.  What's your summer manifesto?

Thanks a lot Lululemon!

“Yoga is my secret weapon for triathlons,”  says the Lululemon advertisement on the back of a Yoga Journal.  A woman lies on her back, presumably after having finished the Ironaman Triathlon in Kona, her hands cover her face.  We are led to believe that she’s been rendered horizontal by her exhaustion and joy at the completion of this feat.  A lei, race number and her plastic gift bag are strewn around her while a large white Post-It like index card sprawls over the bottom third of the ad with the following mantra: 

Bucket List #1: Qualify + Finish IM Hawaii.  Check and check.

Why does this ad repel me so?  

Yoga too has been co-opted in the name of competition and hyper-achievement.  It is not enough to wear a designer outfit for one’s asana practice, one must also run a marathon, bike 112 miles, and swim 2.4 miles all in pristine Hawaiian morning.  Only then, may one die peacefully and with a sense of achievement.  Yoga, will serve as band-aid for the joints, bones and muscles that will be pushed to carry one through, and perhaps soothe the exacerbated mind during months of rigorous training.  Thanks Lululemon!  

Just for the record, the purpose of what this ad refers to as yoga is to bring one enough flexibility and strength in the body, calmness of breath and equanimity of the mind, to be able to sit in meditation and achieve bliss without having to run up volcanoes or peddle around Pacific islands. Over time, one learns to experience this bliss in ordinary life, while doing the dishes, putting your son to sleep and driving to work.  

Put that on your bucket list.  It’s actually much harder than an Ironman.