There is magic, on a late summer night, sitting with your toes in the sand. The stars twinkle above befriended by a perfect half moon. At my back the sound of the waves lapping the shore and before me a perfect vertical bonfire raising its glowing ember arms to the velvet sky.
We are a circle of friends, sharing our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and disasters knowing that we are loved no matter what. What feels a shame to us just gains a smile, a soft silence, a hug; until we know that it is no shame. In this moment of acceptance and serenity we can feel and acknowledge our own growth. We are no longer bound by fear and self.
And in the circle, and the night, and the ocean and the fire, we are new -just for this day, this night, this moment. There is no need to look ahead or behind. We are present. Life will always bring new joys, new sorrows, new trials and triumphs. But in this moment, we are are safe in our own skins. A group of friends sitting on a beach. The magic is we are healing, together.
I lie in this old bed, with it’s lacy sheets and long history, in this rambling old box of a house. I think of all the loves, and not so, that have shared this place with me; some better unremembered. Just one whose absence is painful; not a husband in case you wondered.
This old box holds my memories, fifty years gone though it never was really home. In a life where I never really settled anywhere for long, it became a kind of symbolic home, a place to come back to. It has a familiarity that only long time places have. The dangerous winding road that brings me here is not dangerous to me, even in the ice and dark, as I know it so well. The seasons of flowers and fruit trees, some now gone and some just feeding the bears, are like my own seasons; as familiar as breathing.
The seasons of my life are, in some ways measured here although I will always think of myself as a New Yorker. This is the lodestar place, the peaceful place and the occasional refuge despite the vagaries of familial relationships. Every part of this place is a marker of memory; puppies now gone and buried in the lawn, my son racing naked in the grass, the smell of our first horse, the view from a bedroom window. This is where I came from college, from the wreck of my time in D.C., this where I found recovery, this is where I came on holidays from law school, this is where I began my career, this is where my son was born.
I realized recently that where I live, both town and house, has been my home for the longest in my entire lifetime. What an odd thing, from birth to this moment I have never stopped anywhere for this long. And I never imagined it would be where I would finally light for good. Perhaps there is one more place, who can tell?
Now, as I watch my mother decline along with this old box, I know that all of our time here is drawing to a close. And while I know that I cannot and would not go back, there are those moments I wish I could revisit. The roads not taken, the seasons not fully appreciated. Regret is useless but human, not a place to linger. Gratitude is where I have to live, that this old box has sheltered me until I could stand alone. It is a new season in my life, I am not done.
There is something starkly beautiful about a New England winter. For some reason I find myself here almost every year at this time or at least in some wintery place. But the gray landscape lends itself to introspection. At least here on this mountaintop, I am isolated with just two of my immediate family, my mother and brother. And so, often, I am alone with my thoughts. Since I don’t ski, or snowshoe, it is just me and the fire and watching the snow melt on this strange day.
I will hardly be the first person to say that your family is who they are and sometimes you love them in spite of yourself and in spite of themselves. I was told recently to remember that there is family you choose and family you don’t choose. And you love them differently. And sometimes, there is the family that chooses you.
Over time, people have come into my life that I love very much. I did not know that I could love as much as I do. I did not know how much I would value the love and friendship of the women in my life. And I did not know how much I would value and be touched by the people I have known the longest and who I see the least .
When I was young, all I understood of love was sex and marriage. As an aside, marriage has not worked out well for me. But marriage gave me my son, from whom I have learned a very different kind of love; The kind for which you would throw yourself in front of a moving train.
It is always interesting to me the extent to which nature, the weather, the scenery affects my mood and feelings. Sometimes it affects my optimism. Sometimes it is all about memory. When I come to this place it is full of memories of people, events and love past. And it is full of the present – thoughtful, joyful, difficult.
It has taken these years of living to begin to understand the nature of love for me. And it is all of the above, thoughtful, joyful, difficult, memorable. How happy I am that I have begun to understand the difference between need, want and love.
So, my friends. We always think, when we hear the word love, of romantic love. And don’t get me wrong, romantic love is a wonderful thing if it is part of your life. But it is wrong thinking to think that romantic love is what should always be top of mind when you think of “love”.
My cats love me, in their own peculiar way. They need to be close a lot of the time when I am home because I often am not. They groom me and bring me various live and half-eaten prey to show how much they love me. Dogs, fortunately, do not bring prey but theirs is a most unconditional form of love. They do not care what you do or when, they just love you. Cats are a little pickier but always come around.
And religion, ritual, spiritual practices tell me that G-d loves me. The best version of any of these tells me that my concept of a G-d should be loving and caring and not punitive despite some of the biblical allegories that might drive you to believe otherwise. I choose to believe that if there is a power greater than myself, it is caring; that the universe means me no harm. Bad things happen, they are part of life not the vengeful creations of a punishing G-d.
Despite my own insecurities and self-doubt, I know today that my friends love me. Now there are the women. They are the friends whose love is wrapped in sympathy, empathy and hard truth. They are the friends that fill my house with laughter when we play cards and whose paths, in many cases, parallel my own. They are the friends that understand what my life is like at the present time and that is a priceless gift. Then there are the men. I have learned that it is indeed possible to have really stalwart and steady male friends without the need for tension, chemistry or romance. They have brought me meals, listened to me rant about the shortcomings of certain other men in my life. They show up to fix things or reach things I can’t. They refer me to services I need as a single homeowner. They have my back all the time and don’t laugh at me as much as the women do. They are the friends that just show up and care whether they understand or not. And men and women alike, I love them back.
And there is my son, with whom I am friends. He is the friend that showed up every day to clean the pool and take out my trash when I couldn’t. He is the friend that knows me inside out and doesn’t take any bullshit answers. He is the friend that thinks I should have romantic love in my life. He is the friend that shares his fears and understands mine. We have come to this wonderful adult place. And of course, he is my baby and I love him more than I will ever love anyone!
So, romantic love – it would be nice. But I have, as you can see, lots of love in my life; and it is good.
So being laid up as I have been is a different kind of experience. This is when being single gets interesting. I am a generally independent sort and for the last ten days I have been mostly helpless as a result of surgery on my feet. Now we don’t think about our feet all that much, until the can’t be used! And if I am up too much they definitely let me know.
As a result of this, I have been forced to ask for more help than I am really comfortable with. And it has forced me to think about why we are so resistant to asking for help. Do we think we aren’t worth it? Or that people secretly don’t like you and just won’t show up? It is odd. Giving help comes completely naturally, it is just what we are supposed to do. Getting help, what an emotional struggle.
I have been so blessed with friends who did show up. Dinner has arrived at my house every day for eight days. Take out filled in the rest. I have discovered Grub Hub, but that is a story for another day. People have taken out my trash, gone to the store, called every day, driven me to the doctor and sat in the house while I took my first shower. My son has shown up every day since he came back to town, just to see if I need anything. He is cleaning the pool and other sundry tasks. All the minutiae of everyday life that you need to be on your feet for. I thought I was super prepared, hah! That’s a laugh.
And so, having to learn to accept help with grace and gratitude, that is the lesson. I believe there is a lesson in every experience, we just don’t always know what it is. When my father had dementia and lived with us, the lesson was patience (I have had a few lessons on that…). When my marriage ended, the lesson was that I am quite enough all by myself. That prepared me a bit for this next lesson which is that I am not always enough with out some dependence on people who love and care about me, whether I believe I am worthy or not. I am not sure how gracefully I have managed this but I know this – I am overwhelmed with gratitude!