I left Perth over three weeks ago and each day since has been a challenge leavened by jubilance and flavoured with regrets.
Jubilance, because that’s what it is to sleep in one’s own bed, eat at one’s own table and catch up with friends and family. Regrets because as the Zen saying goes,
Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.
Not that I experienced anything near enlightenment while in Perth. There were, however, many useful lessons being left to your own resources and wresting with inner demons can provide. I find it difficult, however, to meaningfully share the lessons I learned while in Perth because I am still working through what my time alone taught me. The following list may fail to convey the insights gleaned from spending five weeks alone because such experiences are personal and profound only for the individual involved, but perhaps this list and the questions attached will give you pause …
- It is easy for me to be alone. Sometimes too easy. (How easy or difficult is it for you to be alone for a long period of time?)
- I am braver than I think but not always, and that is okay. (When was the last time you felt brave?)
- I can be stressed, unhappy and exhausted but I can still examine, analyse, reflect, plan and problem solve … though exhaustion slows the process. (How do you work through the hard times?)
- My family and friends have a unique knack of saying and doing the right thing at the right time. (When was the last time a friend or loved one came through for you just at the right moment?)
- Relative strangers are a felicitous blessing. (How has a stranger helped you?)
One of the highlights of my stay occurred at the end of the five weeks. I was invited to lunch by a family member (by marriage), a woman I admire but don’t know well. Two other couples made up our party of seven. The three men sat outside, on the patio, the tenor of their voices a contrast to the gentle, determined chortling and harrumphing that accompanied our women’s way of poking fun at life and our shared experiences. We laughed together, knowing that unmentioned tears were shed in the past and more would flow in the future. Those unmentioned, implicitly acknowledged, tears nuzzled against our mirth adding a salt to our tales of family, friends, cities and countries loved and left.
These women, these couples, have known each other for decades but they welcomed me into their world and I was fed, respected and accepted for who I am. Every woman present that day is a grandmother; magic happens when grandmothers break bread together. Superficial barriers melt, lives are celebrated and we are blessed by mutual respect and compassion. On that day we did what grandmothers do best: we cast a strong thread around our circle, a thread coloured by our places of birth, our religions, our lives, our triumphs and our losses.
The lesson I had that day is one I will never forget.