Thoughts from a snowy wood
I’m about halfway between my first two solo European train adventures. A short four months ago, I was still struggling whether I could even conceive of traveling without my beloved traveling companion. With my second Eurail pass already in hand for a six week’s trip starting in March, I can foresee a point in late April when I’ll have completed The Year of Living Alone. (I capitalize only to highlight to myself that this will be the first year since I was twenty-five that I have actually lived by myself.)
It’s not that I’m surprised to find myself alone. I always had it in the back of my mind that my default social preference for solitude would eventually lead me to the number that is the loneliest one. Except I’ve not been lonely, and by the time my first year alone is complete, I feel confident I can project that it will be a year of growth, achievement and peace in my heart.
I don’t know if it will be my destiny to remain alone; I’m not trying to necessarily, nor am I steadfastly opposed to such an outcome. The key element I think is that I’m not waiting for something to happen one way or the other. With these two significant train trips executed and planned, I appear to have embraced widowhood with a positive determination to make the best of what I’ve managed to so far recreate as a good situation.
If I was still planning these solo trips as if Carolyn and I were taking them together, they would not only be planned completely differently, but it would mean I’d remained mired in a past that no longer has a future. I would not be growing but stagnating. Worse, I’d be clinging to something without finger or toeholds; I’d be cruising for a depression that is its own special place in Hell for someone who’d shared the kind of absolute and adoring love Carolyn and I had shared.
I’m not suggesting that I think of myself as some kind of hero for arriving at this stage of my new life still intact. Quite the opposite; when Carolyn first passed I knew I didn’t have the guts to deal with losing her. I’d hoped there was something the size of a tennis ball in my head or my colon that would shortly take me right along with her. But I knew that kind of thinking violated everything Carolyn and I had talked about in terms of mortality, and I knew she wouldn’t be very proud of me for thinking it.
Those first days, weeks and months, then, were lived solely for her. What can I do today to make her proud of me? It wasn’t much to start; maybe just committing to getting out of bed by 8:30, writing, reading and exercising—anything to create a sustaining routine. At first it was just mindless rote activity. Then, obligations of the surviving spouse regarding the estate and probate added some obligatory focus. Gradually, the days began to fill, and that became a foundation for filling the next days to come. And four months later, I was in Paris boarding a train to Bordeaux for what would become my new normal for widowhood.
I’d never fully understood what Frost meant when he wrote:
These woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
I think I understand a little better now.