Autumn - 1974
I started college at 17 (thirty-eight years ago), and felt horribly alone. I had chosen to move 50 miles away from where I grew up and knew no one. I had left the small group of friends that I had painstakingly gathered about me over the years and the loneliness was unbearable. And I found that first week at college, in the library, a book that would nourish me the rest of my life.
The title drew me in, “Journal of a Solitude”. I was unfamiliar with May Sarton; had never read any of her poems or novels. She published this journal in 1973, about a year before I picked it up. I delved into it like diving into a cold lake on a hot summer day. She was one of the first authors I knew who had the gift for laying her soul bare, exposing the loneliness, frustration, anger of being human, and I knew I was not alone.
Her words have been constant gifts to me in this struggle we call life. When I can’t express what I feel, I pick up one of her journals, ( I also have Plant Dreaming Deep and the House by the Sea); open to the month that I am currently in, and always find something that nourishes me. When I first started reading May, I was just a girl, but even then I found common ground with her. An epiphany tonight – I read her entry from October 5th:
I woke in tears this morning. I wonder whether it is possible at nearly sixty to change oneself radically. Can I learn to control resentment and hostility, the ambivalence, born somewhere far below the conscious level?... There is nothing to be done but go ahead with life moment by moment and hour by hour – put out birdseed, tidy the rooms, try to create order and peace around me even if I cannot achieve it inside me….
The realization was that I am now almost as old as May was when she wrote this. I feel gratefulness to her for putting into words those things that I still struggle with. You would think after 40 some years I would have gone further in my journey toward – toward what?
I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep…It is all closed in, to a kind of still and intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain… Sit it out. Let it pass. Let it go.
There have been times in my life when friends have compared me to Job. Perhaps it is because of the many trials I have had to face in my life. There is a common misconception that Job bore patiently his trials – not so – he was willing to accept whatever came his way. What angered him was friends trying to convince him that he had done something wrong to earn these trials, this was his punishment, he should repent, admit his sin, and die. Or something like that. He wasn’t angry at God; he was angry at his friends. I think he was bewildered, and the only way he knew to get through it was to sit in ashes and weep. I can certainly understand that. But for me, having something to do in the garden has always helped. If it is raining too hard to work outside, I can look over seed catalogs and dream about next spring.
My frustration in my life is that there is never enough time. And energy. I have bits of thoughts, starts of poems, floating around in my mind that break through once in a while – but I need the time to develop them. I need quietness and some solitude to nourish them. That is not something that I get very often. Working full time, taking care of my family, doing the barest chores necessary to maintain life and sanity, doesn’t leave much time to nurture the poems that try to come through.
Last fall, going in to work through the back way, the rain slicking the concrete and making the red maple leaves bright, I saw one brilliant leaf that had been ground into the concrete by the myriad of office workers heels. That leaf called out to me, “I did not deserve this death”, and I have sought for time ever since to tell that leaves story. But there is no quiet. There is no true solitude. Even when I shut myself in my room, I am not alone. Macie senses my desire to be without her and sits and cries at my door.
|Mom, don't you love me?|
Someone once asked William Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study. She answered, “I can show you his library, but his study is out of doors”. When I am at my lowest, even if it is the middle of the night, in a rainstorm, I find solace by going outside and letting nature envelop me. At least until the mosquitoes start to bite. Then I shake myself and go back inside, but am always comforted by the few moments stolen alone with nature.
So I write this for all you, for mothers and fathers who work, take care of your children, for anyone who is striving to survive in this economy, this world, trying to hold onto your house, the few things that really matter to you – those who take care of elderly parents, own their own business, who deal with physical pain that can be so draining, who fall exhausted into bed at night, wondering when your time will come. Well, this is your time. It may not be what you thought it would be. You have to treat your time/energy like money in the bank. You only have so much – make sure what you expend it on is worth it. Pare down your life. Say no to the things that rob you – even though they seem worthwhile endeavors. Simplify, simplify. Focus on those things that you are passionate about. Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain… Sit it out. Let it pass. Let it go. Accept. Be grateful. Joy can fill you even in the midst of a time of pain. It doesn't have to be the giddiness of youth, or even the passion of a first love. but those moments of simple joy are so worth waiting for.
(Sally, my thoughts are with you today - and my prayers for a quick recovery)