Desert Time

Published October 3, 2011 by Susan Woodward

No, I didn’t misspell “dessert”… though that might be interesting at some point down the road.  What I’m talking about is this time I’m experiencing right now… desert time.

Most folks might construe that I’m about to start complaining… deserts have that kind of connotation, I guess.  But the way I’m looking at it right now, being in the desert is a kind of test or challenge for me.  I’ve been living alone for the past year and a half, and it has been the first time in my nearly 50 years.   After getting married at the age of 19 and raising five children, I never learned what it was like to simply take care of myself.  I had gone from someone’s daughter to someone’s wife to someone’s mother, and for 49 years, I was always under the same roof with someone.  But now that the kids are all grown and gone, I’ve had to face the mixed blessings of loneliness and solitude.  It vacillates between the two, but I guess that’s what it might be like to be out in the desert.

The desert can be both a beautiful and a terrifying place.  Not that I’ve ever tried hanging out in there, but I can imagine the beauty of the rock formations, the desert flowers that one is treated to now and then, and the blue of the endless sky.  I can also imagine the feeling of being lost without a soul in sight and the possibility of running into snakes and scorpions.  It’s unfamiliar and frightening and glorious and exciting all at the same time.

I guess I imagine this time as a desert because I can see for miles that there is no one else around me.   That’s how I often feel when I come home to just me… no one else for miles.  That, too, is unfamiliar, frightening, glorious, and exciting.  With the kids all gone and following their own paths, it’s time for me to re-assess.  I’ve been daughter, wife, mom, teacher… but at my age, I am still trying to figure out what it means to be “Susan”.

I’ve always defined myself by the roles I’ve played in life.  Now that it’s just me, I’m not quite sure how to adjust to this new part.  Even though I’ve been here for a year and a half, I’m recently out of a long-term relationship that had also been a way of defining myself.   We had never lived together, but it was still a part of how I saw myself… an extension of someone else.  Now what?

I can imagine in the desert, I’d thirst.  What is it that I thirst for?  There seems to be so much that I have always wanted to do, and now that I have the time to do some of them, I’m kind of scattered.  Scattered like the places one would find to fill a thirst in the desert.   I haven’t quite gotten to the point where my home is my oasis yet; the place where I come to be filled instead of trying to fill my time elsewhere.   Like the beauty of being in the desert, I can appreciate the beauty of my home.  I can look around and be happy with how I have it decorated and how comfortable I am to have other people that take care of the property instead of trying to manage it myself.  Yet as much as I love it here, I still feel like one who is out in the sun too long… the thirst keeps me moving.

What I need to do is figure out what it is that I “thirst” for.   Something that will quench and fulfill, not just a few drops here and there to keep me from going insane.   Once I figure out what will quench that unknown thirst, then I have to figure out how to bring it home with me.  Like maybe building a well so that I can feel satisfied right here instead of having to go out scouting for water.

One thing I do know is that I want to write.  I don’t know if anyone would be interested in what I might have to say, but I guess I just want to get the words out for my own sake.  There are some stories in me that want to be told, but I keep second guessing myself and how others would judge my writing.   But a friend encouraged me to just start writing my thoughts down on a blog every day or so and to just keep writing no matter what.  So I guess I will try that to see what comes.  Perhaps it’ll just be the catharsis of moving the thoughts to some place more organized– getting them out of my head, where there seems to be so much clutter these days, and on to a place where I can revisit them.

Right now, my path seems to be to move through the desert.  To admire it for its beauty as well as to acknowledge the fear of traveling it alone.  But it’s the path I’ve been led to, and I believe that as much as I might not have chosen to wander in a place of desolation, I have to learn to see this as an opportunity to learn the difference between loneliness and solitude.  It’s the loneliness that makes me hurry through it, looking for a place to quench my thirst.  But there are times when I simply admire what I see.  And I guess that I might continue to see this path as one through the desert until I come to some kind of peace within my new life.


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