Knowing how to be

Solitude, but not too much: I walk to Herrenchiemsee, November 1972.

“…many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone. Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”bell hooks

The photo above was taken in 1972, during one of the most otherworldly experiences of my life. My family and the couple we were visiting had traveled in late November to the tiny Bavarian island of Herreninsel, to visit the unfinished palace of mad King Ludwig. Our hosts had told us that during the summer, thousands visited this spot where Ludwig’s intention to build a full replica of Versailles ended tragically.

That day, however, it was hard to imagine anyone but ourselves in that remote location. We reached the island on a small ferry boat accompanied only by the skipper and an elderly nun traveling back to the convent on another island, Frauenchiemsee.

The walk from the dock to the palace was about a mile, through a snowy woodland that felt like a Currier and Ives lithograph come to life.  Savoring the haunting seclusion and beauty of the most snow I had ever seen, I strolled ahead of our group to feel more fully immersed in the fascinating history about which we’d all been reading.

It would not have been nearly so enchanting if I had truly been alone. I probably would have been too frightened to even take the boat. Who would have been there to help me if I had needed it? And if I had been by myself, how I would have longed for someone with whom to share the the outing! Our day combined the best of both worlds; a fabulous but deserted palace that we toured in complete privacy, with only a caretaker present rather than the thousands there in summertime, and the reassurance of sharing that isolation with trusted loved ones.

My bookish childhood and my years as a military spouse have strengthened the already strong tendency I have to enjoy being alone. I didn’t realize how important that skill would be for me one day. Learning to be alone has been absolutely crucial to my survival this past year. I’m very grateful to be able to endure and even enjoy long periods of solitude.

Yet the presence of friends and loved ones is just as important, if not more so. With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment here to share a short video tribute to three remarkable women who, for the second year in a row, made sure I was not alone on the birthday Jeff and I had shared for 38 years (yes, we had the same birthday, though he was two years younger). Some of you may recognize Renee, Mitzie and Myra as the friends who sat at my side during Jeff’s funeral and stood by me (literally and figuratively) at his graveside. You may remember Robert (Mitzie’s husband) as the friend who read the touching letter to Jeff and gave the benediction at his funeral. On my birthday this year, they continued the unwavering support that has enabled our family to keep going since Jeff’s cancer diagnosis over 5 years ago.

In what was the closest thing to a birthday party I’ve had since I was eight years old (when my Mama gave me the one and only birthday party I had during childhood), these wonderful friends fixed my favorite foods to share at dinner, showering me with cards, gifts, a cake, and a touch of Hawaii in the music. I’ve never liked the song “Happy Birthday to You” when it was being sung to me. But this occasion was the exception.

Far from being a means of escaping solitude, these friends have granted me my space for the past year while recognizing there are some times when we neither need nor want to be alone. I am forever grateful!

 

22 Comments

  1. Happy belated birthday!
    I love the little tail passing by in the background! I’m so glad that you were surrounded by love on such a special but difficult day.

    • Thank you, Jan! I started to mention that tail in the blog post, but then I decided to wait and see if anyone noticed– and you did, right away! That tail belongs to the adorable beagle Ziggy, who was coming around to sit by my chair and beg. Dogs can always tell who is an easy mark, but I only gave him a little bit. 🙂

      • It’s such a perky little tail!

        • Yes, and it goes perfectly with his perky personality. 😀

  2. I loved the Hawaiian birthday party! Such good friends. Love to you and Matt.

    • Thank you Cherie! You and Ron are in our prayers. Sending love and our best wishes for the holidays. ❤

  3. Renee West

    Isn’t the grace of God forever comforting. He sent us all to you my dear friend!

    • Thank you Renee, and THANK GOD for all of you! ❤ Thanks too for starring in today's blog post. 😀

  4. Mitzie Puakea

    Julia,
    I loved this, especially my Ziggy! And I missed it, so very happy Jan pointed it out!
    xoxo, Mitzie

    • Mitzie, I noticed that cute little tail right away. I guess you see it so much that you don’t see it as easily. But I was so happy he showed up (even if not completely) in the video!

  5. What a beautiful snowy picture!

    • Thank you, Sharon, and thanks for coming by! From reading the “about me” page on your blog, I think we might indeed be “kindred spirits” in many ways. I have several of the same interests as you list in your bio. My friend Amy who often visits here is another fan of Anne. 🙂

  6. Amy Hill

    I have been meaning to ask you how your birthday was. SO sorry I have not. I do have something planned for us to do when we have the opportunity but you have a lot on your plate right now so we will save it for when you have time to catch your breath and cause to really celebrate. I love you very much. Glad you got to have a special day on your birthday. Your York family is a wonderful group of people who obviously love you very much. Take care of you.

    • Thank you Amy. I will look forward to whatever you have planned, but also please know that some of my favorite memories are all the unplanned fun we have had over the years. Thanks for being here and for being you. ❤

  7. Finally, a long overdue hello I’ve come to make and I see I’ve missed your Birthday. Honestly, what I don’t remember these days. So sorry Julia! I’m really happy to see you have lovely friends who keep these things in mind and celebrated with you. I too noticed a tail passing by 😀 Cake, Ukelele music, a doggy to visit with, gifts and cards can only mean it was awesome. Did Matt get to join you all?
    It’s just struck me that Jeff was two years younger than you, Jim is two years younger than me and Mike is two years younger than Alys. It’s pretty happenstance.
    My second week of retirement and I still am up late wanting to catch up with everyone I love. I know you miss Jeff like mad and always will, sorry you couldn’t celebrate another Birthday together J. xo K

    • K, no apologies– as you know, I completely missed L’anniversaire de la Boomdee which is a national holiday in Canada, I think, or at least it ought to be. You’d think I could have managed some fireworks or something, but no such luck. As far as all our husbands being two years younger, we obviously chose men with impeccable taste in women. Perhaps they all sensed a bit of a challenge in we “older women” that made them look past all the swooning youngsters falling all over them, hee-hee. Thanks for visiting me so late at night, it’s almost as if you were back at my home again. 😀 😀 😀

  8. Harry Sims

    ON BEING

    We close our meetings by joining hands in a large circle and someone is asked to lead us in prayer and quite often they say, “who’s large and in charge?” followed by the group saying – “Our Father……..”.

    Harry

    • Harry, I love that. I need to make myself a poster that says that very thing – “Who’s large and in charge*” with *no, not you” in fine print beneath the headline. 😀

  9. Beautiful words, Julia and oh so true. I”m thrilled to learn that your friends were there for your birthday, as they have been throughout the years. Friendships and solitude, both so important to our survival. Love to you. xo

    • Thank you Alys. We’ve talked before about enduring awkward junior high school years, but for me, the best thing to come out of that was learning to be happy even when I was all by myself. Though it can sting at first, knowing one will never truly belong to the “in” crowd is a very freeing thing. Then the friends one makes are true keepers– and more often than not, they too are rare individuals! Love you!

  10. Julia,
    I have no words but one: Beautiful.
    -Alan

    • Thank you, Alan!

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