As I get older, I am very aware of how time is limited and the fact that tomorrow—or even five minutes from now—isn’t guaranteed. This realization led me to do something I never thought I’d do—travel outside of familiar places alone. Sure, I fly back and forth to Buffalo and Oregon to visit family and friends by myself all the time. I take pride in my ability to not only plan those trips, but to complete them by myself. But the trip I was contemplating was more complicated.
I wanted to travel to Hawai’i and see Maui again. The only other time I’d been to Maui, I was on a cruise and I got the usual highlights tours of the island. This time, I had a list of things I wanted to do, some for the first time, and others were repeats of things I had enjoyed before.
After working out the logistics of the trip (with a few false starts), I asked various friends and my daughter if they would accompany me on this “Bucket List” trip. I was a little amazed when no one was able and /or interested in going! Their reasons varied from “I’m not interested,” to “I have to work.”
Finally, after thinking about my options, it was obvious that there was only one choice—go by myself. For months, I waffled about whether or not I wanted to travel alone to Hawai’i—which is 2500 miles away from the nearest land mass and where I knew absolutely no one—or if I should just postpone the whole trip until someone could join me.
Finally, I decided to go—and take a chance on staying healthy, finding my way around, and being safe. One of my major concerns was being lonely. The thought of eating all of my meals without a companion was depressing. And to whom would I point out a particularly stunning or exciting sight?
I did my homework, as the saying goes, and prepared for the trip by carefully researching the hotel I chose and booking tours to accomplish my goals.
The trip was fabulous! I found out that going alone isn’t a bad option as long as you are somewhat resilient and make sound plans. Eating dinner at busy restaurants alleviated my loneliness. I enjoyed the people watching and felt like I was part of a community, albeit a temporary one. Booking group tours meant that I had companions to share my experiences with and diminished any risks involved. Because I am naturally out-going and friendly, I found it easy to strike up a conversation with my tour companions. The down hours I spent with my trusty Tablet, playing games, posting pictures on Face Book, and reading. I also “checked in” every day with some close friends and family via text and phone calls.
There were benefits I didn’t expect. Driving myself to my hotel on a stunningly scenic road on Maui made me feel empowered. After all, this wasn’t a familiar route in my hometown, nor was I being chauffeured by my daughter. I found my way (thanks to Google) and didn’t make a bunch of wrong turns. (I’m not too adept at using navigation systems.)
Making my way around a strange town and seeing what I came to see was liberating. I didn’t have to accommodate anyone but myself. I chose what I wanted to do—and did it on my own schedule.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. I would hesitate if I went to a non-English speaking country of course, because that would present different kinds of challenges. But somehow, the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted was life-affirming for me.
Image courtesy of Pixabay
“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the young woman. “It will be poetry, verses about love and longing and the angst of being twenty.” That Christmas she received a suede-covered volume from her beau inscribed ‘Kate’s Scribbles.’ After he left her, she filled the parchment pages with poems and stories of love and heartbreak which were splattered with her tears. When she graduated from college, she clutched her teaching degree to her heart. Her mother’s advice echoed in her ears.
“Teaching is a good profession for a woman. You’ll be home when your children are—and you can always write in the summers when you’re off,” her mother advised.
The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank. ***
“I think I’ll write a book,” said the woman.
Her husband laughed. “When will you have time for that?” he asked archly. “We have a child to raise. We can’t take chances like that, not with a mortgage and bills and obligations. Maybe someday—but not now.”
The woman nodded.
Yes, maybe someday she would take a pen in hand and write. She’d tell the story of a young couple, only in their thirties, with a child, finding their way in a sometimes hostile world.
The suede-covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.
“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the forty–something matron. Life’s lessons had etched fine lines around her mouth and eyes, and added streaks of gray to her dark hair. Children were her main concern—her own child who was struggling to find her way and the ones she taught every day. Her marriage was in tatters from the battering of life’s realities: finances, personal problems and dreams that might never be realized. The woman could not remember the last time she had written anything other than a grocery list or a note to a parent. Sometimes, she would pick up a pen and hold it in her hand, hoping that words would flow onto paper. Once in a while they did, but the words spoke of anger and frustration and mostly of lost opportunity. So she hid those words from herself.
Her mother, now dead, had advised her well. Teaching was, after all, a steady, predictable job with an income she could rely on.
The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.
“I think I’ll write a book someday,” the woman said to her friends as they toasted her fiftieth birthday. She thought back to the earlier years, when the desire to write flamed in her heart. Searching everywhere, she finally found the suede bound book with poems so full of young love and loss and promise. Taking it reverently from its shelf, she blew the dust away. That night, she sat and read until her eyes grew heavy and a single tear traced its way down her cheek. And she felt like a part of her was dead.
“I think I’ll write a book,” said the widow, now in her sixties with hair that was more silver than black. Sadness was her daily companion. “I’ll write about loss and loneliness, and trying to make my life new.”
Her career as a teacher was a memory—one that over time had become more distant.
The woman’s child, now grown, lived in the great northwest forest with her beloved. Days were empty and the woman wanted—no—needed to tell her stories.
So, she picked up a pen, and began to write. Words flowed like water breeching a dam. And the woman wrote a book, and another book and another book. The pages were filled with the story of her life: of the things she had put aside, the sacrifices she had made, and the joys and dreams that had been realized. She wrote of the sorrow and the searing pain of loss. As she wrote tears and sometimes even laughter were her companions.
Surveying the shelf crowded now with the suede-covered volume and many others like it, she smiled.
With words as soft as a prayer, she whispered, “Finally, I wrote my book.”
There’s a picture of Dave and me on the refrigerator. I’m tucked under his arm and he’s smiling. We’re a couple in that picture.
Now it’s just me.
The years since he died have slipped by—the pain is just below the surface now, like an underwater current that suddenly grabs a swimmer and takes her out to sea.
Cindy noticed the picture when she stopped in for coffee one morning.
“When was this taken?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess at least six years ago, before the ‘big C’ entered our lives.”
“Are you keeping it there as a constant reminder that you’re alone?”
“You don’t get it, Cindy. Your husband is still alive, you see him every day.” I stirred creamer into my coffee. “Pictures and memories are all I have left.”
She nodded her head. “You’re right. I do get to see my husband everyday—napping on the sofa, or in the recliner, or at the kitchen table over the newspaper.” She smiled. “Don’t you want to get out again, Beth? Or are you going to be alone forever?”
“Where am I going to meet someone to go out with?” I bite into my bagel. “I think I’m a little too old to start hanging out in bars.”
“You could try an online dating site. My sister’s friend did and she met some nice guys.”
“I’m not that interested. I get out. I’ve got friends. I don’t see the need.”
“Seriously, don’t you want some male companionship? Just someone to spend time with…Don’t you miss—you know, sex?”
“Okay,” Cindy said, as she set her cup down. “Look, I don’t mean to interfere. Well, no more than I usually do. But think about the dating site—it might be worth a try.”
She kissed me on the cheek. “The web site is called ‘Single No More.’ Here, I’ll write it down for you. Think about it, okay?”
“Sure. Right after I lose twenty pounds and have a face lift.”
“I’m just kidding.”
Loneliness swept over me like a tidal wave. Tears slid down my cheeks and I wiped them away with the back of my hand.
A few nights later, I was in need of a diversion so I fired up the computer and typed “Lonely No More” into the browser. Up popped a glitzy web site full of testimonials from the no-longer-lonely; the lucky ones who found their soul mates through the web site. They gushed their eternal thanks to the “awesome” people who started this “amazing website.”
I clicked on the free trial button and began to scrutinize the men who were as desperate as I was at that moment.
I read a few bios, when I came across a picture of a man with thinning hair and a nice smile.
“Hi, my name is Drew. Are you tired of being alone?” I nodded my head, and on impulse, I sent him a note, introducing myself.
A few days later, he emailed me an invitation to meet him at the local coffee shop.
That’s how I ended up here waiting for my “date” to appear. I gazed out the window, wondering if Drew had driven up, seen me, and decided it wasn’t his day.
Smiling, I remembered my first date with Dave. We sat in a gray vinyl booth at the diner and talked all night. That was when I fell in love with him.
Tears stung my eyes. Gathering my purse, I started to leave.
The door jingled and a man entered. It was Drew. He approached me, smiling. “Hi, are you Beth?”
I shook my head.
“You look so much like her picture.”
“I have no idea of what you’re talking about,” I said. I pushed past him and left.
I slid into my car and caught my breath.
Memories of Dave washed over me as I drove away. Sitting at a red light I thought, What if I had turned Dave down the first time he asked me out? Would my life have been as happy?
The cacophony of car horns beeping startled me out of my reverie.
I made a right turn and headed back to the coffee shop.
The door jingled as I entered. I walked up to where Drew was sitting.
“Hi. I’m Beth. You look a lot like a picture of a man I was supposed to meet her today.”
I sat down across from him.