Alone Time

Arkansas River Valley

Arkansas River Valley (Photo credit: Pierce Presley)

My mom told my soon to be husband, “Be sure to allow her plenty of alone time, plenty of privacy.  She needs it,” which mystified me at the time.  I had never been aware my parents knew this, or allowed it.  I was one of six children!  We were seldom “alone”.

We were not just an insular FAMBLY.  At most times, we had grandmothers, uncles, stray cousins, and “shirt tail relatives” living under our roof.  Most of my childhood consisted of various combinations of adults and children coming and going, eating and working, and going to school under my Mom‘s watchful eye.  Everyone contributed and behaved themselves, or they did not stay long.  Those who did not pass the test found themselves packing to leave within a short time.   Not many failed the test, and we all benefitted by those who remained.

So where in the world did I get noticed for needing “privacy”?  I was in the middle of the pack.  I was third daughter, with three younger brothers.  I was not the prettiest, smartest, or most athletic, but I say with no arrogance whatsoever I was the most treasured.  The mystery of my life is why.  I got noticed among the crowd and not just by my parents, but by everyone.  I did nothing whatsoever to deserve special attention, but I will admit, I loved EVERYONE, and considered myself an observer of good in others.  I believe this ability to recognize the good in others is what it was that drew people to me.

But the “need for privacy” was a something I did not know I had enjoyed until my mother said so, and by then I was grown, engaged, and nearly out of the house!  Still, when she said it, I felt understood, loved, and accepted.  I was aware for the first time what I was leaving behind.  I left laughing, and with optimism in my soul.

The years that followed left me breathless with public and private demands that sapped my strength, leaving me empty, despairing, grieving for unspeakable losses, and knowing I had never been visible to the family I produced on my own.  I had failed to exist at all, losing myself in the process of attempting to be a good wife and mother.

One day I approached the electric doors at the grocery store, and they failed to open.  I knew they were operable, as I had seen others going in before me, and they were opening as expected.  BUT THEY DID NOT OPEN FOR ME.  I stood before them, and at that moment I knew I had lost myself, and I was not visible even to an electric eye, whose opinion had been universally accepting moments before.  It was real.  I was transparent.  I did not have any substance whatsoever, and it was not my imagination as I had hoped.  I will never forget the day I knew I had ceased to exist.  As suddenly as they had blocked me, the doors opened, and I stepped in, and relief replaced despair.

My parents had died, my sister was gone, and I was living a life far from my parents’ dreams and my own.  I had no one to talk to.  I had left all familiar friends and family in places many hours from Arkansas, and I did not matter anymore, to those closest to me, to those I had invested in most heavily, my husband and half grown children.

It was “alone time”.  I am not able to describe that day with any kind of clarity, but I can say I was keenly aware something had gone very wrong, and it would be up to me to set things right.  This much I knew:  Nobody else could see me, and if I were to become visible, I had to change my life.

I took my groceries home, put them away and made supper, acting out my role the same as always.  Even my closest child noticed nothing.  But I knew, deep inside, that I existed. That I was visible.  That God made me, sent me, and valued me, and would take me home someday.  I knew I mattered, and I realized it was pointless to be “perfect” anymore.  I had given all my goodness away to those who did not even care.

Oddly, this was not the end, but the beginning.

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Good Bye Speech to Vermont Studio Center Fellowes

August 29, 2012

Cumulative wisdom of many lifetimes flows from one generation to another in waves of bloodline and breath, yet none of us arrive with full knowledge of how to get along in the world.  Even after many years experience we feel a certain humility about the tasks of autonomy and integration.  We wear an adult’s body, but never finish growing.  We never finish learning, and we never finish…at all.

Crescent Dragonwagon commented during a recent workshop, “We pass the anniversary of our death date once a year, but do not recognize the actual date as it passes.”  This gave me pause, and well it should!

We need goals, plans, and a strategy for our lives on this planet as vibrant and whole human beings.  Certain questions should occur in our minds, even if we cannot find the answers.  Spending time in nature, pondering the order of the insects, thr grasses, the mosses, and the birds aloft raises some questions that seem to be answered with  no words at all.  Indeed, some of our questions cannot be formed into words!

The essential thing about being a human being, to me, is retaining the child within.  We must hang on to a certain curiosity, a sense of wonder in the tiniest of events.  I know this is why I love to spend time with children.  The synergistic effect of pairing the young with the old is magic itself.  It is not illusion.  It is the very stuff of life.  There is not one guide, but two.  Not only one student, but a pair.

I was making up a song for my six year old grandson to encourage him to get out the door to kindergarten.  The first rhyming word was “start” and then “heart” and it deteriorated from there.  His reluctant and shocked giggles were my reward for taking a risk with his barely budding worldliness.  As he stood there with an enormous backpack above his spindly legs, his eyes widened I would use a naughty word in front of his mom.  It lifted both our hearts just before he faced the day.  For just that moment we were both six years old and in rebellion against the “BORING” world outside the door.

After school he joined us for a trip to the doctor’s office where his four week old sister was to receive a well baby exam, followed by an injection.  We told him about it, and as his mom undressed her, she began to fuss.  All at once big brother “lost it” and began to cry inconsolably because he had a keen awareness and deep empathy for what was coming.  I pulled him to my lap, and he sobbed into my chest for a few minutes.  I was stunned by his tenderness toward his sibling!  As for me, I was dry inside about the idea of a shot on my barely born grandchild.  Over the years I have built up a defense against caring about the pain, in my awareness of the prevention of illness.  But this safe position on my part does not ameliorate the great shock of pain coming to her for the very first time.  Brother James knew this was going to be rough and he allowed his feelings to surface.  I was so proud of him, and especially of the mother who reared such a loving boy.

Empathy for the other is one of the treasures we must never lose, never compromise.  If our children do not learn it, we will have losses in the grand scheme, I guarantee it.  We must keep ever green our capacity for the love, joy, fear, pain of others.  Without it we are empty husks.

I declare to you here and now, we should hold a coronation for every single baby born among us.  Each holds fresh surprises for a small world threatening to go dark.

Those qualified to say so urge us to stay on fire, to protect this inner child, to nourish the freshness.  A friend of mine cautioned me, “Never get angry when someone is rude to you.  It is just an empty boat.”  I asked her to explain.  She said, “if you were out on a pond in a boat, and an empty boat bumped into you, would you be angry?  No, you wouldn’t.  There are all kinds of people in the world, and many are ’empty boats’.  These are the children who have already flat-lined.  Once you see them for what they are, you will lose the anger, the ego.”

We can peer into the womb via the miracle of ultrasound, but not until the child is born and gazes curiously back at us will we fully understand the questions without words.  Astonished at our bounty, we exclaim silently, “Come stay with us.  let us comfort you, love you, and keep you safe.”

The child within you is ageless, sexless, and eternal.  You are absolutely unique and will never be replicated.  You ARE the miracle!  I am grateful we have spent this time together.