My sister died on Dec. 2. A week later I was Googling houses and land for sale in Vermont. I emailed a friend and asked her why she had moved to Quechee, a small charming town a few hours from Boston. She said it’s filled with a bunch of old hippies. It’s as left as left could be and Nance, for you, there’s a club with two huge Olympic-style pools so you can do your laps till the cows come home. And since it was Vermont, I think she meant that literally.
I didn’t like the sound of the word “club.” However, she assured me, it wasn’t an exclusive kind of thing, that membership was included for anyone who lived in her particular neighborhood. And she added we happen to have two acres on our property we could sell you. I loved the thought of living near my dear friend.
So last month, the first time off the Rock in a year, my husband and I drove the three hours up and looked at the land. It was beautiful and we came home to discuss the matter. Joel said, Why all of a sudden do you want to go to Vermont? I said, I think I need a retreat. Oh, he said, COVID and being on lockdown on an Island isn’t enough of a retreat for you? I said, OK, maybe a retreat isn’t it.
Then I Googled houses in Maine. I adore my niece who lives way up north, and thought it would be great living near her. But Joel still works, and needs to be within two hours of Boston, so Northern Maine was out.
When I told my friend Jane my fantasy plans, her immediate response was, “You’re fleeing. Instead of grieving, you’re running away.” No, I said, that’s not what this is about.
She instructed, as only a close friend can get away with, “Do not buy anything! Do not go anywhere. Do not make any big decisions until your year of mourning is up.”
My husband said, Are you bored? I said no. He said, Do you have COVID cabin fever? I said no. He said, Do you not love our house? I said, I totally love our house. He said, So what is it?
What is it indeed, I thought.
I went for a long walk (long for me) and asked myself all the same questions.
All I could come up with was, Maybe I’m looking for a teacher, someone older (is there anyone older?), a mentor. Maybe I’m looking for my spiritual community.
Someone told me Taos was filled with healers and teachers, so back to Googling. I found some spectacularly interesting dwellings called Earthships. They are completely off the grid, and they are absolutely beautiful.
I had been in Santa Fe a few years back, and I loved the weather, how dry it was, the hot sun in the daytime and the cold, clear air at night. Plus, the Vineyard has lost snowfalls, which is my favorite part of winter. And it snowed while we were out there.
I booked a flight to New Mexico. I reserved a car and I booked a hotel, and I rented one of the gorgeous Earthships for a week.
Meanwhile, the husband who doesn’t like flying because of the amount of carbon dioxide airplanes put into the environment, plus he has no desire to own another house, didn’t say no. The man sometimes calls me a force of nature and I think he knows if he had said no, I might be pushing against the “no” rather than making a discerning decision based on facts, not emotions.
In the meantime, what Jane had said about fleeing kept inserting itself into my compulsive-thinking habit. Two thoughts about my shopping list at Cronig’s, one thought about fleeing. Three thoughts about where to find that white balsamic vinegar Suzy uses in her fabulous salad dressing, one thought about fleeing.
I used to start my Writing from the Heart Workshop by saying “We’re alchemists. We turn s___ into gold. We take what happened to us and we have the ability to transform it. We can dance it, we can sculpt it, we can paint it. In here (meaning in the sacred circle of writers) we will write it. But … (and I always added this line) the most important part of the equation is first you have to feel it! If you don’t feel it, if you numb out, if you stuff the sorrow, it will find itself somehow in your body. It will marinate in your kidneys or your liver or your heart.”
When my son Dan died 11 years ago, I hadn’t taken any of my own advice, and had distracted myself with as many activities as I could crowd into a day. It took me about a month of first being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and then when that didn’t wake me up, having a severe backache to the point where I had to be on the floor. Although like a dream deferred, drying up like a raisin in the sun, my willingness to suffer emotionally was delayed and deferred. I had tried chiro and acupuncture and heating pads, and cold packs, Advil and CBD oil. I even read a book on anger and the back. But the pain wouldn’t cease. One day, lying flat, I heard myself saying the words I had repeated a thousand times. “We’re alchemists. We turn garbage into gold. But the most important part … blahblahblah.” Oh, thought arrogant me, even the teacher has to feel it? First I laughed, and then I wept, and then I wailed. And then two days later my backache went away.
So here I am not listening once more to my own sage wisdom. I hear myself say, You can’t skip the pain part. And here I am once again trying everything in the book to skip the pain part. I’m buying land in Vermont. I’m flying off to New Mexico to investigate living a sustainable lifestyle under the pretence that I need a spiritual community and some kind of teacher. Then it hits me. The teacher is Grief. And I know her. Intimately. And she’s right here, right in my little cabin.
And the spiritual community? That’s you.
I canceled the trip.