ALONE, BUT NOT LONELY

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When I was in my early 20’s I rented an apartment alone. I was both excited and a bit nervous; having no idea what living alone would be like. I loved it and I never had a roommate again until I moved in with Steve, more then 10 years later.

During those years I did all sorts of things by myself. If I couldn’t find someone to join me at the movies on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I went alone. When I was in my early 30’s I started traveling for business and found myself going all over the world, alone. I worked all day and saw lots of people, but at night I was on my own. Room service only works for a few nights and I began to venture out to restaurants. I started by bringing all sorts of things with me, books, notebooks to write in, and magazines, anything that would distract me from feeling awkward sitting at a table alone. As I aged, those feelings dissipated and now I love going to a new city, alone, exploring, eating in restaurants and not bringing a thing with me.

This past month has been a true joy. The mixture of being alone and being with my sister and friends has been a great balance. The walk was amazing, talking and engaging with other “pilgrims” during the day and solitude to reflect on my journey at night. It couldn’t have been better.

I just spent 4 days alone in Florence and Lucca and I loved every minute of it. The flexibility to get up when I want, go where I want, eat when I want and see what I want, was wonderful. I got lost a lot and didn’t have to feel the least bit bad about it. I ate at wonderful restaurants each night. The reservation was for one and each restaurant took care of me as if I was an old friend. The waiters were attentive and brought half portions of the dishes meant for two.

I am reminded that we live in a world of couples. When people would engage with me, they were often surprised to hear that I was traveling alone. Sometimes they seemed sad for me but sometimes they had a bit of envy in their eyes. Women would often ask me questions, wondering if they could do this. “Of course you can”, I would reply. Being alone does not mean being lonely, it simply means being alone. Often people would invite me to join them or at least have a conversation with me across the tables. I often realized that, other than placing my order, I probably hadn’t spoken all day.

I’m now in Rome spending my last week with my dear friends of more then 45 years, Mame and Cliff. They have been in Rome for the past 3 weeks and are welcoming me to share this time with them. I’m not alone and I have comfortably become part of a threesome and not a third wheel. The amazing joy of being with old friends, who know me, makes me grateful.

I head back to Korea in a week and I will once again make my way back into the life Steve and I share. I really look forward to seeing him and I also know it won’t be as it was. It can’t be. We have been apart for 9 weeks and a lot has happened for both of us, as it does in life. I love the idea of sharing my experiences with him and hearing about his. Each experience I have, takes me closer to the person I want to be. The person who can go it alone and relish in the time I have with Steve and with good friends. The person who can live in the moment and not worry about all the unimportant details that really do take care of themselves, The person who is loving and caring to other people and nurturing to myself. The person who lives with love in my heart and not fear.

I love my life and I am already planning my next adventure. The other night when I spoke to Steve he asked me if I knew about Annapurna. Only from a book I read years ago. He said he thinks it may be on the “list”. If it is, I won’t be doing it alone, but with Steve. Here’s to the joys of living life to the fullest, whatever that might look like, to not waiting for anything or for anyone but realizing our dreams and making them happen. Right now I’m off to see the Sistine Chapel, alone.

Stay in touch and I will too.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

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CH CH CH CHANGES

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I spent most of my adult life working with individuals and organizations making change. Most of the time the changes were short lived at best. There were those few occasions when the changes that were implemented actually stuck. Those were usually times when the people or organizations were in enough pain to make things happen. Most times people would feel exhilarated during the process and vow to integrate the changes into their lives or organizations, leaving the experience with a renewed sense of living life as a lighter and more fulfilled person. Then life would take over and lessons learned would be lost. Often I would hear from my clients years later that they had finally made a change in their lives and were relating it to some of the things they learned from our time together. Those learnings were put in the back files of their minds and brought out when the time was right.

When I embarked on this journey I came with little expectations of learning profound new life lessons. I was right. The lessons, so far, are ones I knew, had learned before but hadn’t really put into practice. The Camino walk was wonderful, even the two days walking in the rain. One day in the pouring rain! The people I met were incredible. The time alone was relaxed and joyous. Every moment, in fact, was incredible. The lessons of letting go and just seeing life unfold each day was easy. Sure, I didn’t have the pressures of a job or having to consider anyone else’s needs. That is the luxury of growing older. The awareness that the experience before me is the only one I have. Living in the moment seems real because the moments are no longer endless. There isn’t the luxury of thinking, “Oh, I’ll probably be back here again.” Instead it’s the reality of knowing that I may not return to these places in this lifetime.

After my walk I felt a sense of disconnection with the world I was stepping into. Getting to the airport, two flights, and a train to the hotel in Brussels. I realized that I barely spoke all day except for the necessities of getting on planes and trains. I met my sister for a long overdue birthday celebration. Our familiarity with each other was a comforting relief. We spent a few days catching up and headed to Bruges. In the cab to the hotel the driver asked how long we were staying and we replied, just a day and a half. “Oh well, “ he said, “you’ll be back.” We looked at each other with that knowing look that this probably wouldn’t be. We are headed to Barcelona tomorrow, a city I have been to before, with an excitement of seeing it again for the first time. Another wonder of aging, not really remembering all the details of trips past. I have noticed that a layer of film that encompassed me has melted away. That layer that seals in worry and expectations and keeps me from the moment. It’s gone. I’m certain some parts of it will return just to help me get through tough times in life but for now it’s gone. The lessons of living in the moment, at least for this moment, are real. It seems a little foreign to me. Yesterday on the train from Brussels to Bruges, I was not the least bit concerned about when we would get there, how we would get from the station to the hotel, where the hotel was, what the hotel would be like, where we would eat dinner or any details of the day. Instead I listened to my book on tape and looked out the window. I was surprised when we arrived so quickly. Everything worked out. We took a cab, the hotel is so charming, we had a great day exploring Bruges and a wonderful dinner. All this happened without me having to do any more than show up.

These are lessons I’ve know for a long time and wanted to integrate into the fabric of my being. So far, on this trip, it seems to be happening. Maybe it takes the right amount of life experience and the wisdom of age to resurrect the files in my own mind.

I have a little more then two weeks of traveling ahead of me. After 4 days in Barcelona I leave my sister and head to Italy, to Florence and Lucca for a solo journey, then off to Rome to meet my dear and long time friends, Mame and Cliff for a final week of exploring with them. Life is full of wonderful changes at this age. A time of knowing that each moment really does mean something and filling the days, weeks and months with joy and wonderment feels a whole lot better than trying to control any outcomes.

I miss Steve like crazy and that even feels good. To love someone so much that the longing for their presence brings joy and not sadness.

Stay in touch and I will to.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

SURPRISES

When I was pregnant with both my sons it was considered “old age” pregnancies. A term that would never be used today. I was in my 30’s and amniocentesis was highly recommended. Along with the results of the test came the gender of the baby. Ultrasounds didn’t accurately reveal the baby’s gender in those days. I chose not to know. I remember saying to Steve that there are so few surprises in life and this was a chance to really be surprised. I am reminded of this because walking the Camino is full of surprises that I’m embracing and welcoming.

I have walked for two days and it has been an amazing experience of meeting incredible people, walking alone, joining people for meals, eating alone, staying in a different place each night, so far they have all been good. When I decided to come on this trip I decided not to create a long list of hopes and expectations but rather to be surprised by what happened. My first surprise was losing my luggage, which was reunited with me two days later. I must admit that I did not worry about its whereabouts, particularly when I realized I had an insurance policy that would pay me $2000 if the luggage were truly lost. Believe me, the bag and its contents are not worth nearly that. I bought myself a pair of shorts, a shirt, socks and a hat and took off for my first day of walking. I intentionally did not read the detailed notes that I had about the topography of the days walk, the sights I would see, the up hills, the down hills, the cafes along the way or the weather. I wanted the surprise. The day turned out to be spectacular, foggy in the morning with the sun breaking through about 2 in the afternoon. I met a wonderful couple, Ruby and Axel, from South Africa at the start. We stayed together all day and talked about everything from religion to politics. All the things we might avoid with new friends. They were both interested and interesting. We walked for hours and the time went by as we changed topics and shared ideas. The scenery was spectacular. Rolling hills, cows, even an ostrich. The road went up and down with rolling hills the whole way. We walked for about 7 hours, 15 miles, and arrived in Portamarin where we shared a great, late afternoon lunch and parted ways. Will I ever see them again? Perhaps. We stayed at different hotels and I spent the night reflecting on all the surprises of the day. I was surprised by the average age of the people I met. Most were in the 50o’s and older. I suppose if I came in July or August the demographics might be different. The breathtaking scenery surprised me. I was really surprised by how good I felt after a full day of walking. Mostly I was surprised by my ability to stay in the moment and really enjoy it, foreign territory for me. I had forgotten about my suitcase until I walked into my hotel and there it was, like a long lost friend, I was actually surprised to see it sitting there. A great and wonderful first day!

I woke up this morning at about 6:00am and after a terrible breakfast in my hotel, a surprise of another type, I decided to start walking a little earlier than the day before. I must say that I was surprised by how dark it was at 7:30 and had there not been people on the road I likely could have gotten lost, no surprise there. I walked alone for several hours and I didn’t seem to connect to anyone who spoke English. Having not read the description of the day I was surprised by the difference in the topography. I walked near major roads, less beautiful wooded areas. Then suddenly I came upon a cow that had just given birth. She was cleaning the small calf who was struggling to stand or her own four feet. What a surprise and a miracle as well. I stopped at one of the many lovely cafes on the walk and had a snack. As I was about to leave Ruby and Axel came by. It was a wonderful surprise and I realized how much I had missed walking with them. A type of intimacy is easy to achieve when there is such a strong common bound and an anonymity that is built in. We walked together taking up where we had left off the day before until we reached their hotel. We shared lunch and I took off to my hotel. We hope to meet tomorrow but there are no promises or meeting spots, just the element of chance.

My hotel for tonight is off the beaten path and when I checked in they asked me what I time I would like dinner. Being in Spain I knew I should go later than I really wanted to. I’m exhausted. My body has some new aches and pains after 16 miles of lots of up hills and down hills. I said 8:30 and when I arrived the lights in the restaurant weren’t even on. I was the first to arrive. I asked the woman if others were even dining. “Oh yes,” she said, “some at 9:30 and others at midnight.” Midnight! Good grief, I hope I’m sound asleep by then. I asked for a glass of red wine and she brought a bottle that she left on the table. Just then a couple came in and I knew they were either Americans, Irish or English. No one else eats this “early” in Spain. Irish, they said, and we started talking and within minutes I was joining them for dinner and a wonderful, lively conversation about religion and politics. I guess when you aren’t likely to see people again these topics are easier. We laughed, drank my wine and theirs and said goodnight knowing we probably won’t see each other again. This is the Camino. Deep conversations, light ones as well, surprises around every corner.

I have 3 more days of walking before I reach Santiago. Tomorrow is my longest day, 17-18 miles and again I am not reading the description of the route. I’ll be surprised. I hope to see Ruby and Axel, that would be a pleasant surprise.

My big lessons so far are that life works so much easier when it unfolds before me, when I don’t try to control things that are out of my control, think lost luggage, when I let the element of surprise be part of my fabric. I don’t need to know much about what’s coming next, certainly not a trip like this. I can be planful without expectations and outcomes.

I leave Santiago on Wednesday morning and I fly out to meet my sister in Brussels. My only hope is to hold on to my luggage between now and the end of my trip. Or spend the $2000 from the insurance company on new clothes in Spain and Italy. Not a bad alternative and a good surprise. I will continue to blog about this trip and the three weeks in Europe that follow.

Stay in touch and I will too

With love and gratitude,

Marsha