An Outlived Life and an Enduring Friendship
I am moving from Southern Oregon — my home for the last 20 years. I arrived here back in 1991 with a young husband, a three year old, and a dream house under construction. Since then I have shape-shifted through many lives, and in the process lost the husband, lost the house — and managed to imperfectly raise two children. Like a dutiful child, I can say I am grateful for all my blessings, but my life has not been the fairy-tale I had envisioned.
And sometimes I worry that I am running away.
A friend tells me, “If you were running away, you would have left a long time ago.”
Still, I know people who can “move on” more efficiently — without the messiness and upheaval of physically leaving a place.
In her book, The Road Back to Yourself: The Second Journey, Joan Anderson uses the phrase “an outlived life.” She writes: “There are outlived events and relationships that we must celebrate and then let go of, and there are unlived experiences that we must search for, welcome and live into.”
This resonates with me. My life here is merely “outlived.” The fire has gone out. I have done what I needed to do; fulfilled my responsibilities as best I could, and now it’s time to live into something else. If my way is to move away, then so be it. I’ve always learned by doing. I was never one to read the manual.
Last weekend I went to St. Rita — a local Catholic retreat center where people of all spiritual traditions (or none) are welcome to stay for a few days of prayer and reflection. I have been coming here off and on for many years.
You enter the Center by driving through a large black gate. When that gate swings closed behind me, I am transported to another world. St. Rita’s has always fulfilled my fantasy of running away to a convent. I guess “running away”, or least thinking about it, has been on my back-burner for awhile.
My friend Carol comes with me this time. We met long ago when we both had babies and have been friends, through thick and thin, for many years. She has five children with three still at home — and now also has a grandchild.
She will tell you she is never alone.
After breakfast our first morning, as I took off to do some writing, Carol tells me she felt a little stunned wondering, “What do I do now?” Being alone and not having something to do with or for someone is new territory for her. She gives it a shot, however, and heads off with her drawing pad and paints. On our last day she mentions making a return trip to St. Rita’s — all by herself. This would be a walkabout for Carol and I am happy for her.
Carol is also a devout Christian and has a strong personal relationship with God. Myself . . . I am unaffiliated, on-the-fence, and open-minded. It is a credit to us both that we can maintain our friendship given this spiritual chasm. I think it is because each of us is comfortable with who we are. Neither of us is a threat to the other.
Our two days together at St. Rita is a “leave–taking” I did not anticipate. It also turns into a celebratory summing up of our friendship. At night we sit in twin deck chairs sipping champagne and reminiscing. I was the first person she told about her fifth pregnancy. She was one of the only friends who stood by me through my divorce. We laugh a lot and share deeply in the way that is so nourishing for us.
The next day Carol offers to do a prayer healing for my sore neck. I am a strong believer in the power of prayer – whatever form it takes. While she prays, I am overwhelmed by the strength of her faith and the warmth of her love for me.
This is something to be treasured. This friendship has staying power and will never be outlived.
I also think back to a few months before, when I was being rolled into surgery for uterine cancer. I feel very grateful to be healthy, here with my good friend, and with “a bonus” unlived life before me.
I call this retreat at St. Rita’s a “practice walkabout.”
I bring very little with me. I am exploring what has value to me and what doesn’t; what to bring along with me and what to leave behind — in every area of my life. I am glad I brought the things that support me physically — my hat, a small water bottle and the contoured pillow that supports my neck.
Technology also simplifies things. As much as I love holding a paper book, a single light-weight iPad gives me easy access to books, movies, news, community, and information. I can even use it to write with a small attachable key board.
At St. Rita’s my walkabout has the feel of a spiritual pilgrimage, but I am not intensely questing for anything in particular. I am just trying to do the next right thing – trying to be present for it and live it. Outlived things are fading away and new meanings are sprouting up in their place. As any woman knows — who reunites with an old friend and it is as though no time has passed — one never outlives true friendships.
So I take the insights as they come — sitting in my deck chair, sipping champagne late into the night — living in awe and wonder, watching the rest of my life unfold, and basking in the warmth of an enduring friendship.