It was right to come home for a night to regroup and get some balance. We even went with friends to see the movie “Moneyball” and then out to supper. In a little bit I’ll head back to Connecticut to be with Mom until she gives that final exhale. She is peaceful but I don’t want her to be alone. Oh, there are helpers and friends coming in and out of her room, but I want some family with her. Who knows what’s really important—that I be with her for her sake or for mine. I’m going to go with both.
The 3S’s have felt mighty strange this past three days. I’ve been staying at my sister’s so I can spend time with my mom, survey the scene, and sign her into hospice. There is plenty of silence and solitude at my sister’s, but things aren’t simple. And yet, they are. Mom seems at peace and isn’t in pain. She is well cared for and loved. This morning I took a walk; the rain had just stopped; it was warm and moist—and peaceful.
I been thinking about my desire for silence and solitude. In fact, using the term lightly, I could say that I’m obsessed with it, this pull, this longing. It's not about avoiding but about going toward something. Toward God—that’s the universal term we use, but I must admit that it is rather confining and can be restrictive. In fact, any word we use puts a ceiling on the possibilities of meaning. So let me try again and pull out my other favorites; a longing for the ineffable, to sit in the mystery, to be surrounded by the peace that passes all understanding. Regardless, it’s beyond words.
I believe this longing is the deep soul work of all human beings, but for some reason it has become a particularly clear focus in my life. Undoubtedly it’s a life stage issue; many of life's usual practical details aren't important or necessary to me any more; I have addressed them. But that isn’t the entire answer. I trust that anyone reading this blog feels that innate longing once in a while. After all, this is a blog for “people who are looking for silence, solitude and simplicity and who sometimes like to be alone.“
Today I’m going to Connecticut to sit In silence and solitude with my mom, who at age 101 is fading away. She has always had a peaceful aura about her, which is with her now, no doubt about it. Throughout her entire life she has participated in this deep soul work and I trust that that will continue right up until her end. What a privilege to witness.
I think I’ve mentioned that I love airports and that if I were homeless, that’s where I’d live. Something shifts in me the moment I go through those automatic doors at Logan Airport. I slip into a different zone, which Tony Hiss, in his current book, “In Motion: the Experience of Travel” calls deep travel. Sure, I wanted to get to Scotland, but my travel wasn’t about being an ‘already there traveler’ and getting to my cottage-near-the-sea on Skye as soon as possible.
When I travel I seem to be more prepared to stay in the moment and take things in in a different way. In my backpack is my Nook, a book, journal, maps, puzzle books, pens and pencils, and all my travel papers. My mind shifts into airplane mode, thus preparing me to embrace any delays or inconveniences, and I pretty much stay on that frequency for the entire trip.
The flight to Glasgow this time was effortless and flawless, the only glitch being that we arrived ahead of schedule and had to wait twenty minutes on the tarmac for a gate. I had three hours to spend at the airport before my bus to Ft. William, and strange as it may seem, I was delighted. I wandered about, or shall I say puttered about, found the ATM machine, enjoyed a ‘full Scottish breakfast’, checked flights, watched arrivals, bought my bus ticket and tried, unsuccessfully, to find a ‘hot spot’ for free internet.
Here’s a try at describing this airplane/airport time? It was travel and destination all wrapped up in one. It was being present in the moment with some kind of past and future simultaneously whirling about. I was on the movable walkway, delighted that wasn’t coming to an end.
I have the sense that there is some deep connection between solitude and travel for me. That travel might be across the Atlantic, up the highway to my cottage-by-the-sea, or just across the street to the library. Travel from one place to another, but intense and present every second along the way.
Waiting for the bus.
I wonder how Pete’s doing? Pete, my bus companion from Trydum to the Glasgow airport a week ago. At age 68, Pete and two younger buddies were on their way home after climbing Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland. Pete admitted that the trek, especially the descent, was tiring on his legs, but that he had done a great deal of climbing in his lifetime so it wasn’t a big deal.
I’m really wondering how his fifty minute flight home to the Midlands went. You see, Pete had never flown before and he was petrified. When I told him that the ride home that evening would be smooth compared to his rocky flight to Scotland on Tuesday (riding along with Hurricane Katia), he was incredibly grateful. “Thank you, for that,” he said with intense sincerity in his voice.
We didn’t talk every minute of the trip. Truth be told I wasn’t in the mood to carry on any usual kind of conversation with a stranger, but Pete was different. I offered him some Scottish shortbread, which he idevoured. Every so often he would bring up the flying issue. He wanted me to tell him all about my first time flying. Was it bumpy? Was I scared? I had to admit that I had no recollection of my maiden flight; I’ve been flying as long as I can remember, and I love everything about it. I was no peer for Pete. He was still petrified and all I could offer was reassurance that the ride home would be smoother than the ride up.
At the airport I met Pete’s buddies, definitely long time friends who were helping him fulfill his dream to climb Ben Nevis. I have the sense that it was Pete who led the climb, but it was his friends who held him up as he faced his fear of flying. I was privy to a transformative moment in Pete’s life.
I have just returned home from my dermatologist’s office after successful Mohs surgery. The squamous cell carcinoma is now gone. I won’t go into the medical details; you can get any information you desire from the internet. Suffice to say that this procedure offers a 99% cure rate and I’m cured.
I told very few people about this upcoming procedure. It wasn’t a big deal to me, I was aware of the success rate, and my dermatologist never saw any reason for me to postpone my trip to Scotland. If it’s an emergency, Mohs isn’t the way to go. Also, I didn’t want or need any attention about it.
However, with this big patch on the side of my face, it is now impossible to avoid attention. There is no way for those I meet on the street not to ask me what happened. So much for protecting my privacy, read solitude.
You might ask, “Well then, why are you putting this on your blog, this very thing that you don’t want attention about?” Truth be told, I asked myself the same question. For as start, I have control about what I blog, as well as how I receive responses, whereas when I walk down the street with a big white blog of a bandage on my face, I’m fair game for whatever attention people decide to offer.
But this is now a story after the fact; the surgery is over, the results positive; everyone’s response, including my own , can be light and easy. And when I walk down the street, people won’t have to ask.
Moonlight on my last evening on Iona.
Oops, I’m at the Glasgow Airport waiting for my flight to be called, and I just glance over and noticed a lady reading one of those tabloids. You know, those British newspapers that we Americans would never pick up. “Schools to bring back strap.” I won’t go there; I’m going to stick with silence, solitude and simplicity, which I’m pretty certain isn’t part of the tabloid mission.
So what about silence? As you know, my solitary trips are all about silence; solitude is implicit, and simplicity is part attitude and part circumstance.
One of the primary ways I’m defining silence these days seems to be, “No words, no talking.” That’s the way it was on Skye. I spoke with people when I needed directions or wanted something such as a ferry ticket or smoked salmon—all very practical. A couple of times I had what the Scots would call a “wee chat” with someone, such as while waiting for the Raasay ferry.
But things shifted with the weather, which coincided with my departure from Skye and arrival in Oban. On Sunday, as I began to wonder if I would make it to Iona, I found myself joining in solidarity with other like-minded travelers. In fact, rather to my surprise, the chatty, gregarious me appeared.
There was life energy in our exchanges; our conversations felt honest, with true giving and receiving, a back-and-forth that nourished us all. The bonds continued among those of us “marooned at the hotel, and extended to the staff. But as the seas calmed, as the ferry schedule returned to normal and the hotel filled up, there was less familiar conversation. * By the time I left Iona on Friday, I had pretty much slipped back to my more reserved silence.
* One exception was the couple I had started the venture with on the ferry to Mull.
Waiting to change buses in Tyndrum. Looks simple and it is.
I made it to the the Holiday Inn Express at the Glasgow Airport! Was it a simple trip? Two ferries and two buses; ferry from Iona to Mull, bus across Mull, ferry to Oban, bus to Glasgow airport. My feet ought to get some credit, as well. Although it sounds anything but simple, everything went smoothly, so thumbs up for a simple trip. I did, however, have to change busses in Tyndrum, but that’s what you do if you want to catch the bus that goes directly to the airport instead of Glasgow Center.
Right now I’m in the hotel lounge/reception area/bar/dining room taking advantage of the free wifi. I refused to treat you to a picture of this one-size-fits-all room, which is anything but silent.
Very soon I’m going to go to my silent room and get some sleep. It’s a long day tomorrow, flying west to Philadelphia and back east to Boston.
Today I spent the entire day outside in the sun and active wind, walking all over the island. I can’t say it was silent… and yet it was. I was in solitude as I smiled and nodded to others along the route. My routine was simple, even though the sea, rocks, and mountains show a complicated history. That’s all I have to say on this marvelous final day on Iona .
I’ve been taking a day of silence, solitude and simplicity in defense against the folks who have started coming across on the ferry. It may not simple to fit in a walk in between the rain showers, but silence and solitude are mine for the taking her on Iona.
By the way, I've lost track of the number of days I've been here. All I know is that tomorrow I'll be enjoying some sun on Iona, Thursday I go to Glasgow, and Friday I fly home.
Here are some rainy day photos. I'm planning some sunny versions for tomorrow.
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