Late yesterday morning I said good-bye to my kids as they drove away from our place in the country in the loaded in more ways than one sporty car of our good friend, off to see their dad and step mom and their friends, while I stayed behind with the good friend’s wife, my day care partner and friend of many years, to visit, to clean the house, load the van, lock the doors, buy a gift in town, take a short walk in the woods nearby, and drive to the glamorous home where our dear friend and fellow day care provider was to celebrate her sixtieth birthday with friends and family, new and old. We arrived in Springfield on the top of the hill overlooking the Connecticut River just before sunset, toured the large home where the sun poured through stained and antique glass windows, onto the luxurious wood panelling and shiny wood floors and thick carpets, glanced off the many collections of furnishings and decorative objects, room after room of a couple’s life in travels and decoration, until we came to rest at last in the kitchen, newly remodeled, large enough for a small bar with a couch in front of a huge fireplace lit with candles rather than a fire, to sit and visit with our friend’s friends, an older couple who had traveled from Michigan, to learn their story, which began at a home for children where the man had arrived from China as a twelve year old boy many, many years ago, sent by his mother to start a new life of promise in the US, and had stayed on caring for the children’s home by stoking the furnace and attending college classes at which point he met his soon to be American bride, who sat beside me on the couch in her stylish tan suede wingtip shoes with the lime green soles while her husband, so many years and degrees later, sat nearby dozing in a leather chair in his Mao style wool jacket with hand made buttons down the front. Later he told us about his practice now, interviewing and evaluating candidates for disability, most he said, who did not qualify, who just did not want to work, and about his practice as a young man, where he offered therapy, not only prescriptions, as so many of his younger colleagues do now, and about the letting go of the way that went before he is learning to do, whether or not it seemed better or worse, the old ways are in the past and something new lies ahead.

Also at our table were the sister of the hostess, as well as the sponsor of our friend’s husband and his gal, and his mother, ninety eight and dressed for a party. We sat in the fancy dining room at one of three tables, admiring the art, the collections, the furniture, the fireplace, the plaster ceiling motif, the paper dragons and red lanterns hung to decorate the room in honor of the birthday girl, born in the year of the dragon, and listened to words of love and kindness lavished upon our friend Sue, day care provider, sister, daughter, wife, mother, and spiritual seeker extraordinaire.

We arrived home late, first to Liana’s house where we unloaded her bags, then to mine, where I was too tired to unload mine, which sat in the van until after this morning’s religious service of choice, Unitarian Universalist, where I found and sat beside my good friend and her son, former members of our day care group, listened to the singing and reading of two of my son’s friends, and scanned the crowd for others I might know, finding no one, thinking as the service proceeded, readings, response, piano, organ, flute, choir, sermon, about the previous trips I’ve made on my own to Quaker Meeting in Cambridge, and wondering where oh where I might belong.

At home now I have only a few minutes before my children return, one on his way back to college with his dad, the other two here for the day with me. I wonder as I always do, how to do the things I need to do when they aren’t here so I can do the things I want to do when they are. I wash dishes, unload the car, start a load of wash, read the mail, then indulge myself in time here while Jackson C. Frank sings to me from the speakers overhead.

I haven’t got a clue really what to say except to tell the story of my days, to put some detail to the living that passes unnoticed unless I stop to write. I’m in that sort of place. Work is less a part of who I am than it’s been for years. I’ve dropped most of my community involvements, no longer am out at night and up in the morning at meetings and worrying about the politics or chores of groups to which I’ve pledged my allegiance and my time. Maybe the trip to the UU was for that, to see if there’s another place to put that part of myself. After one visit is my guess is no.  I loved sitting beside my friend and her son, loved seeing what she has come to value and appreciate in this stage of her family’s life, found it sweet to see the children sitting on the front of the church as someone spoke with them and read to them from a book about November, enjoyed the guest speaker and her talk, but found the singing of a type that didn’t move me, the congregation not as familiar as I’d hoped, not just in terms of knowing individuals, but in terms of feeling I might belong. Hard to say what it is about a group of people that feels right or wrong or just off, but so far, I don’t think I’ve found my place in a religion as an adult, as much as I revere the silence of a Quaker meeting, and the wisdom spoken there on occasion, or the earnestness of the Unitarians, open to the liberal world of all sexual orientations, and most creeds, deep down I’m still a Catholic, though the idea of returning to the dogma of a formal church with teachings and a pope that don’t align with many of my beliefs feels wrong, too, so for now, I’ll be a visitor, finding quiet in Meeting, inspiration in a service, giving Krista Tippet and her podcast On Being a turn now and then, taking a walk in the woods to remind me of the divinity in nature, and spending time in the quiet of my house, noticing the solitude and company in my surroundings and what each brings.

I’m sorting out how to be alone in the world in a way I haven’t done in awhile, maybe ever. I heard a quote recently, can’t remember who it’s by, but the ghist is that if parents don’t teach their children how to be alone those children will always be lonely. Learning to live with myself, in the quiet of the days, on the long road of life, is the subject of fascination that draws me to poetry, to religion, to retreat, to the woods, to my kitchen sink and table, to music, to turn off the radio on long trips on the road, to stay in bed long after I’ve awoken, to pay attention to my dreams, to write here, wondering always what it means to be a person at each stage and station in life.

This month’s loss was a twenty percent pay cut from my new employer, SVS. It’s a source of some shame for me to accept a pay cut at a new job for a position that already pays less than any job I thought I’d take at this stage of life. We all voted to accept a renegotiated contract in the face of low enrollments at the school, caused by a variety of circumstances, to keep the school alive, also to keep our jobs, which cannot continue to pay us if the money isn’t there. It’s also scary to watch my income go down and down and down at this point in my life, one son in college, two more at home, living in an expensive place in the world, driving an old car, living in an old house full of old things. I’ve done it once before, I keep telling myself, and I’m fine. Divorce, for me and for many, means a decrease in income and security, more drastic than most changes in my life, save the loss of a job, which I have only endured for short periods of time, have always gone smoothly from one job to another, though have never, or rarely earned as much as my contemporaries from Cornell, have learned to accept that part of my choosing in life, choosing not to be rich, but to follow my dreams in other ways.

I don’t really know how to cope with this round of loss. I’ll be careful at Christmas not to overspend. I’ll hope my taxes this year will go way down. I’ve called the phone company and the dentist and the oil company to reduce my bills. I’m thinking of energy conservation, making long term plans for savings and for maintaining the house. I’ve hired my brother to do work I’d otherwise pay contractors more to do. I bought myself two pairs of shoes on sale, one fancy pair of red boots, one decent pair of hiking shoes, a couple of shirts, a sweater and a fancy dress on clearance, and my kids each a thing or two on sale at the gap, figuring it’s good to go into lean times well dressed and also that the belt tightening will happen, but for now, I have some money in the bank and might as well enjoy it, as the magnitude of the problem is not just about shopping for my kids jeans, but about learning to live on much less and not to feel always deprived, again.

We had a fine Thanksgiving and a birthday celebration for me that night. I was surrounded by the house and land and people I love and in that moment I cried for the happiness that brought. My mom got me new kitchen towels and an Audubon book, my sister a silver barrett and wool socks, the sorts of gifts one offers a practical single mom with small indulgent desires.

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