Thoughts on the Empty Nest

Rows

Last week I took my son down to Florida to begin college. The house is empty again. Just me and the cat. And she’s spending most of her time outside in the budding spring. Since I got home Saturday. several people asked me if I were lonely.

Well, no.

That’s not that I don’t miss his presence. When each of my kids left to begin their lives, a certain energy left with them. My son, in particular, is a ball of energy – fast thinking, fast talking, clever, funny and full of ideas. You don’t take that out of a house without something missing when they leave. But lonely? I don’t seem to do lonely anymore.

I did once.

When I went through my divorce twelve years or so ago, I went from living in a house where the three people I had build my life around were a constant presence. And then suddenly, I was gone, in a small empty apartment, alone except on weekends. I fought my feelings of failure. I fought my own demons. I fought depression. And I felt very, very lonely.

Fighting my way back from that took time, more time because I was fighting multiple dragons at once. I am good at fighting my dragons one at a time, but this fighting them on all sides thing? Not so much.

But I worked my way back. Most of us who stay at it get there. I learned once again to become comfortable in my own skin. I recovered my most honest self – the introvert that I was at more core, despite a life of activity and accomplishment.

Since then, my life has been a revolving door of people coming and going into my life. My daughter moved up here from Virginia at the end of her Junior year of high school, and stayed here through her college years, coming and going each fall and spring like clockwork, until she settled into her life of her own.

My son too, ended up coming up here to Vermont for the tail end of his high school career and spent a gap year before going off to school last week.

In between all the comings and goings, I often had months, or years alone, and then had someone here and then alone again.

I have learned to be OK with whatever comes. It’s more than just acceptance. It’s a comfort, an understanding that even alone, I am not alone. I have my God. I have friends and relatives a phone call away. I have myself, and introvert that I am, I’m not bad company.  I can zone out in meditative nothingness or become swallowed up in creativity. I have work that puts me in contact with people.

There is always something, in other words, to engage me. And as long as I seek those things and those people out, they are there. My loneliness, I came to understand, was an internal thing. I allowed it. I, not the absence of any particular person or group of people, caused it.

There are always connections to be made, things to do, a soul to search, stuff to learn, beauty to be absorbed, a God who listens.

Always.

But not being lonely is an active thing, I learned. We can’t expect the lack of loneliness to just happen. It rarely does. We have to put ourselves out there. We have to see and seek connection. People don’t always see our loneliness. And even if they do, they don’t know what to do with it.

We have to do it.

At least that is my discovery. I had to throw away my sense that losing (at least temporarily) a family and life I had loved was the cause of my loneliness. I had to throw away the idea that it was caused by having few people around me. I had to jettison the idea that it was someone else’s job to break me out of that sad, lonely, downward spiral.

I had to realize it was within my ability to end my loneliness, and do it.

There is a part of me that hates that. I am not unlike everyone else. I want to matter. I want to be saved now and then. I get tired of things, even my own life, being my responsibility.

But at the same time, I am glad I learned it, even if I was in my late forties and early fifties before I had to figure it out. It’s good to know I have the power to end my loneliness. That I can make it disappear altogether like some spiritual magician.

Only it’s not magic. It’s just work.

I’ll be alone for the next little while. But in my case, only for a short while. I am getting married soon, and my house will be full of another life, a woman of energy and passion. I can hardly wait. But until then? It’s just me and my cat. That would be the cat who is outside somewhere.

And that’s OK. I know how to do the work.  There’s a life to live. And I’m going to.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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