Over the years, when I’ve felt the need for retreat, I have taken myself to Wilbur Hot Springs.
We’ve been going to Wilbur for well over 35 years. Max was a tiny baby the first time we went. It’s one of those places that feels like home away from home to me. For years, we went with a crowd every Thanksgiving. I have many fond memories of those holidays and also of our family visits (and a few not-so-happy ones), but today I’m mostly thinking about my solo trips to Wilbur. It’s always been a healing place for me.
I think the first time I went without Barry was to heal after my miscarriage (Christmastime, 1977). The most recent was this year when my undiagnosed physical symptoms were really getting to me.
During one of my solitary visits I took the opportunity to work on a process recommended by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with
the Wolves. She calls this exercise descansos. Descansos are markers of the changes, the turning points, the deaths (literal and figurative) in one’s life. She says, “Descansos are symbols that mark a death. Right there, right on that spot, someone’s journey in life halted unexpectedly. There has been a car accident, or someone was walking along the road and died of heat exhaustion, or a fight took place there. Something happened there that altered that person’s life and the lives of other persons forever.” They are the roadside shrines that mark places where an accident claimed a life. I also see them as crossroads, choice points, places where you choose one road and might have taken another.
It makes sense that I’d be thinking about this in this time of “retreat” I’m undertaking and in seeing myself at Hecate’s crossroads.
So, what Estes recommends is taking a long sheet of paper and mapping out a timeline of your life. At every point you remember one of those timess, you make a little cross to mark it. You can then look at and reflect on all of those times, all of those challenges and choice points, all of the roads taken and not taken.
This morning as I was writing, the descanso that leaped into my mind was when I went to library school at Simmons in Boston. Assuming there is a reason that particular time popped up – that there is something for me to glean from that memory – I’ll explore it here.
Fall, 1970. I had just graduated from the University of Florida and spent the summer with a friend in Santa Barbara (my first trip to California). I had chosen to go to Simmons for graduate school because they offered me a fellowship, complete with stipend for living expenses. A better offer than I got from Denver or Berkeley (besides which, my parent said I’d go to Berkeley over their dead bodies – it was 1970). I was in love with a guy who had been a real guide and mentor to me in all ways counter-culture, but it was clear that our paths were diverging. I chose to stay longer in Santa Barbara than planned to see him one last time. My parents were furious, having expected me to be home for a while before heading up to Boston. It was the worst time in my relationship with them, ever.
My stipend money wasn’t due to arrive until 3 or 4 weeks into the school year. I had my ticket to fly to Boston, but almost no money. Refusing to be beholden to my folks (who I felt were too controlling and didn’t understand my lifestyle), I called a former boyfriend who agreed to loan me some money (nice guy; maybe he did it out of guilt for dumping me the year before, but no matter). Off I went to Boston. I knew no one. I had no place to live, other than a depressing room reserved at the YWCA.
Now, I’m a 6 on the Enneagram. Fear-based. This whole situation was WAY out of my comfort zone. I don’t take big risks, at least not easily. Nevertheless, I landed in Boston, checked into the Y, found a copy of the latest underground newspaper, and read a housing ad for “The Zoo.” It was a flat on Mass. Ave. full of friendly hippies, including a Harvard senior whose first question to me was “Do you like toads?” Yes. I met Barry the first evening I was in Boston. I moved into The Zoo the following morning.
Is it easier to be courageous at 21 than at 63? Good question. Probably. But this is the descanso memory that surfaced today, so it must mean something about taking risks and following my own road. The fact is that I was able to take care of myself, to make decisions, to dive into a new life. Maybe that’s what I need to remember now.
Also, that it is possible to move to a new city, to make friends, to try new things and to thrive.
We can do this. I can do it, broken foot and all.