Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

Mankind Takes Care…

My sister had reserved a Yurt for her family in the Valley of the Rogue State Park in southern Oregon. Something came up at the last minute and they couldn’t make it. She offered their reservation to me! How fun, I thought. Since moving to the mountains, I had started to stockpile camping supplies and equipment. I purchased an easy to set up tent for two, a good flashlight, a single-burner camp stove, a warm sleeping bag, an air mattress, a Coleman lantern and other odds and ends to make my camping experience a bit civilized. I brought bottled water, dried food, canned food (a can opener!). I packed a few refrigerated items–enough for three days–in my Igloo cooler.

I arrived at the designated yurt early enough on a Friday afternoon to get settled. City girl goes wild, I thought. Born and raised in San Francisco by the ocean and having lived there for most of my life, this recently-baptized-by-the-mountains-of-northern-California-woman felt ready for a modified camping experience. After all, a yurt is at least a step up from a tent, but I’m camping, right? Newly-divorced (after thirty years of marriage), independent wild woman on my own, capable, solo with an “I’ll show them” attitude. “I’m tough!” I don’t want or need anyone (except perhaps a big dog one of these days). I unloaded everything from the car and put things in accessible places.

I surveyed my surroundings. Nothing about respite or quiet here. Hmmm. There is no sense of privacy either. Each campsite is in close proximity to the next one. I can almost overhear conversations. Is that the sound of a blender? I’m in an electrical jungle of yurts, tents, motor homes. The blender sound is some sort of motorized gizmo to blow up a queen-sized air mattress. Everyone seems to be playing their favorite radio station and it creates an indistinguishable cacophony of noise. Is this what it’s like to live in a zoo? I can imagine tourists driving through. The tour guide with his microphone announces: “Stay in your car, please and don’t get too close. You don’t want to alarm the humanimals. Isn’t that sweet. The mommy is pulling tangles out of the daughter’s coat and she’s growling softly…”

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Dinner time: I can’t get the single burner stove lit to boil the corn on the cob and the tofu dogs I’ve brought for dinner. Lighting matches, matches, more matches. Reading again and again the very abbreviated non-instructions. How hard can this be? Calling on Crone Goddess and whoever answers the prayers of a wannabee wild woman camping. I can’t get the darn thing to light! I stubbornly refuse to ask for help. No way…there’s no one to ask anyway. I’m preparing to eat raw corn on the cob, cold tofu dogs and solidified refried beans. Yum!

In desperation, I finally flag down a park ranger driving around in his truck. Gallantly, he strides over to survey the situation. He lights more matches to no avail. He stands back, perplexed and then, a lightbulb goes on! He flips it over, lights a match…the blue flame starts instantly. It was upside down! “It would definitely help if it was right side up,” he chuckles, scratching the back of his neck. Embarrassed, I thank him and send him on his way. Alright, thank you, you’ve done a man’s job. You can go now. Wild woman is in charge once again.

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This isn’t it. Not the back-to-nature wild experience I envisioned. Mankind takes care to mold nature into a civilized park. Interstate five (5) runs parallel to the campgrounds. People from the city come here to camp and get close to nature. Interstate five (5) drowns out any clue to the nearby presence of the Rogue River. The river not nearly as roguish as mankind. This is not camping! This is not roughing it. This is not peaceful nor getting away.

There you have it, today’s little rant.