I sat at my kitchen table, the midday sun streaming through the window over the sink, on a hot and humid 4th of July. My son was playing with the neighbor girl next door and I convinced myself that I had important work from the office that needed to be done. But that was merely the excuse, the rationale for why I sat there, alone, with no offers from friends (I had none, really) to lay on the beach or to enjoy patriotic festivities that afternoon or the fireworks to come that evening.

I can picture those rays of light and the dust motes suspended in the stifling heated air while I puffed myself up into a weakly pathetic semblance of self-importance – reports from work and other papers spread out before me – but my heart, my spirit was broken, or nearly so as images of my sisters and their significant others and people that I knew from work, laughing and smiling and surrounded by friends and family – with carefree abandon and that elusive quality of fitting in and feeling oh, so comfortable and at ease – indiscriminately thrust relentless daggers into both my heart and my psyche.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so incredibly alone as I did in that moment. Alone and lonely, lost, defeated, unsure of where I wanted to go with my life or how to get there. Wondering, in moments of gut-wrenching pain, just what it was that was wrong with me, trying to figure it out: why did no one want me? I was simply struggling to find hope and love and purpose, companionship and intimacy of the noblest kind – and acceptance.

My twenties were difficult. Married at eighteen, then divorced at twenty with a small child in tow, I was just too young, so naïve and incredibly clueless. But wanting, always wanting. It was the most difficult and disheartening time of my life, sometimes punctuated with fun and laughter, a few good times – some forced, some naturally occurring and far, far too many misguided. I was truly my own worst enemy. Mistakes? I cringe to recall the many stupid, humiliating and self-destructive moments from those years, the failures on so many levels. My son, especially, deserved so much more.

Somehow, I did make it through those rough years. Life improved for me once I started making better choices, exercising more sound judgment which in turn fed my rock-bottom self-esteem. That’s not to say I didn’t still go down the wrong path from time to time. I continued – don’t we all? – to make mistakes (and do still). Perhaps I was just a slower learner than most people, though, when I was younger, a very slow learner. In any case, spending time in a solitary fashion was something I eventually began to enjoy unlike that bleak yet sunny Independence Day. Lunch or movies or a walk in the park – by myself – was time alone to unwind after work or to think through my problems or simply to savor the moment, often in the embrace of the woods that I so enjoyed. Over the years, I developed a taste for this ‘me’ time.

Some people that I love, that I care about are faced with their own realities of being alone and feeling lonely. I can’t speak to what they want for their lives but like most of us they probably just want someone to love, to spend time with, someone to love and accept them for who they are. However, no one can do for them what only they themselves can do to fill the void.

While it’s tempting to burrow oneself into the false comfort of cynicism, negativity and self-pity, a positive outlook and cheery disposition will always win the day. As difficult as it may be to do otherwise, isolating yourself and feeding your wounded soul with junk food, alcohol or drugs and not being physically active does nothing, really, to further your cause. Eat healthy, get proper rest, drink lots of water, incorporate exercise into your daily routine and, perhaps most importantly, find or nurture something to feel passionate about!

Listening to others, too, is so important – really listening, actively listening – and not just sitting there nodding while contemplating what you wish to say next or thinking about your own concerns or troubles or what you plan to wear to work the next day or what color to paint the living room. Truly listen to others. Make (and maintain) eye contact. Show a sincere and genuine interest in what the other person is saying. When you exhibit kindness and show others that you care, not only do you elevate yourself in their eyes, but you will do so as well in your own.

That said, I do recognize that there is the flip side to this where people will take advantage of such thoughtfulness and consideration, people who have no concept of returning the favor, of reciprocity. They will monopolize conversations and never, not once, stop to extend to you the same courtesy you’ve shown them. These are Takers, my friends, and I seek to avoid them when and where I can. Difficult, however, when you work with said Takers or, worse still, when you’re related to them!

Despite all your good efforts to do right by yourself, to be a good and kind person, to put yourself out there, LIFE still happens. We have to learn how to roll with the punches. My favorite prose is the Desiderata. It contains so many nuggets of goodness and wisdom. One that comes to mind, now, is this:

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue or loneliness.

And yet, in the quiet and never-ending stillness that comes with day after day of a forced solitude, it can be soul-wrenching to be, always, so alone. In those moments, like the countless ones I endured in my most fragile of days, I held on to a mantra – two of them actually – that continues to guide me these many years later. One: Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Forward momentum. Don’t give up. And two: Things change. It’s impossible to know where life will take you. There were times, far too many I’m afraid, where – were it not for my son – I may have contemplated my own Final Solution. Thank goodness I did not! My life today, it’s good. I’m happy. I’m content. I’m at peace. And even when I’m alone, I rarely feel lonely. A cherished solitude, that which helps to nourish and feed and provide a quiet comfort, allows me moments of gratitude and contemplation. I welcome it, I seek it. For it was not always so.

On a quest to learn more about myself, I decided one day in early November to just chuck it all, to throw myself into something new, to stretch myself to see if there wasn’t something more inside me that I had not yet been made aware of and to get out there and explore my world.

Well, for the day anyway. Bill was golfing with his brother and would be gone for a few hours. I love him to the moon and back but like any sane, normal person I need and cherish my alone time, my down time, my ME time.

I ate a quick breakfast of toast and peanut butter and washed it down with my favorite juice: pineapple-orange. After making sure my cell phone and camera batteries were both charged and not an inkling of where it was exactly that I wanted to go, I jumped into the F-150. We purchased it more than ten years ago but drive it only occasionally, using it primarily for hauling things or whenever – like now, with Bill out of town – we need a second vehicle. Still, it has over 100,000 miles but runs like a champ. It has a sporty look to it (the letters STX, whatever that means, are painted on the rear side panels) and at first I was a little embarrassed by the loud, throaty rumble of the muffler. I wanted Bill to replace it with something quieter but after I drove it the first time, I kind of liked the rush of power and energy – and oomph!- that I felt behind the wheel, so I told my husband “Let’s keep it the way it is”.

Pulling out of the driveway, I still wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I toyed with visiting a gift shop not far from here that is set up in a grand old barn, filled with antiques and decorative items of interest. It’s a beautiful place and has some lovely things but I wasn’t really in the mood to shop. I just knew that I wanted to get out of the house, drive along some quiet, gravel road and perhaps stumble across something interesting, something unique, something funky, something beautiful. And to snap a few photos which is always my ultimate goal.

I headed south out of town and after a mile or two turned right onto the first virgin gravel road, that is, one I’d not been on before. The sky was overcast and it was only a little chilly. There was no breeze. It was calm and still. Fortunately, I encountered no traffic on my lonely stretch of gravel as I drove a few hundred yards, stopped and took a few photos, drove a few hundred yards further, stopped and snapped a few more. Sometimes I merely stopped, taking in the beauty of the not yet harvested corn fields or the sound of a small stream or to watch in wonder as a pheasant poked his way through the downed stalks, no doubt pecking for nuggets of corn on the ground.

I didn’t shoot any real good photographs that day – it would have been nice if the sun had been more cooperative and there was some blue sky and wispy clouds to frame and complement the shots I did take – but the peace and solitude of this brief excursion was memorable, and enjoyable, nonetheless.










On our lunch break yesterday, as we often do, my husband and I cozied into chairs at Barnes & Noble and with hot beverages in hand, each of us picked a book or two from the shelves to peruse until it was time to head back to the office. While Bill’s interest tended toward learning the intricacies of the new Canon 70D we recently gifted to ourselves, I decided on something a little more domestic.

Because we are (still) committed to finishing our basement, I scanned the shelves in the Home section for inspiration. While there was plenty to choose from – books devoted to the design process, remodeling how-to’s (more Bill’s bailiwick than mine), decorating and feng shui – I was instead drawn to a beautifully illustrated volume entitled Back to the Cabin by Dale Mulfinger. Filled with stunning photographs and stirring prose descriptive of a wide variety of woodland and lakeside retreats, this beautiful book immediately (but gently) pushed me into daydream mode – and I went willingly along for the ride.

Secluded getaways, far removed from the daily grind and go, go, GO mentality that drains us of our souls, these cabin structures and their environs, offered the reader (me!) images of an enticing shelter – a cocoon to envelop and warm and hug us into complacency. Imagine yourself, on a bright and sunny morning, stepping out the front door of your calming fortress (whatever its form) and taking in a lake, stream or mountain view (or even perhaps something not quite so dramatic but no less soothing such as rolling fields of corn or wheat) and experiencing the satisfying reality that such is your existence, with only the weather and your own whims and preferences to dictate how you wish to spend your time each day.

How is it that life as we know it, life as we pursue it, does not take this essential need for beauty and calm and peace (serenity now!) into account? Why must we be constantly bombarded with the bump and grind, the rush and mania of our everyday dealings, a lifestyle much more accelerated and fast-paced than when I was growing up or even just twenty or thirty years ago? Much of it what we are subjected to today we do to ourselves: Facebook, Twitter, 24×7 cable TV and all manner of social media. This is our hurry up, gotta have it, gotta do this, gotta do that, gotta know what’s going on and gotta have it NOW culture.

It’s hard to imagine just chucking it all and spending the rest of our lives in a small cabin in the woods (or is it?) because for one thing, we need to work, we need money to live on, to buy clothes and food and medical care and to plan for retirement. I did mention that I was daydreaming, though, did I not? A Walden Pond type of existence certainly beckons though at times, to get away from it all, to simplify and live our lives examining joy and beauty and nature, relishing quiet and solitude, having time to really just think and enjoy the stillness and wonder of not constantly moving.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Temperature: 36 degrees. The wind, a brisk northwesterly blow at 16 mph. It’s 6:00 AM and I’ve been awake since about three. Fortunately, I had set out my sweats, underwear, socks and shoes the night before so I wouldn’t wake my husband if I decided to step out for an early morning walk. Fully dressed, I don a light-weight jacket, cap, scarf, gloves and adjust my favorite rhinestone-studded bling earmuffs so they fit snug against my ears.

The pre-dawn sky is a deep, almost turquoise blue which I find odd for this time of day, this time of year. A few stars and the always fascinating moon, half-full peering through the darkness helps to light my way as I begin my morning prowl. I don’t get too far before I first hear and then see a trio of the younger gals from down the street out for their run. The air bites, only just a little, and it feels refreshing. Still though it’s cold so I quicken my pace. Seems I have two modes when I walk: plodding and striding. Today, I’m definitely striding and it feels good.

I’m around the ‘loop’ and more into the open now and the wind, it’s strong. A tiny voice whines: Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But I push it aside and think how satisfying it will feel to persevere and DO this thing. I love walking in the early morning like this although I don’t do it as often as I’d like. The quiet, the solitude, the stillness. Knowing that once I’m done I’ve gotten my exercise out of the way for the day. It’s a great time to just think or better yet, just to BE. No computers, no phones, no To Do list to check off. Just me. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love for Bill to join me (and every so often he will) but alone time, ME time – well, I think everyone needs and is entitled to that.

The fresh air clears my head. The cold makes a body feel so alive! You have no choice but to react to the elements, accelerating forward in order to keep warm and moving one step closer to your destination. Kind of like life, eh?

I think it’s going to be a good day.