Monday, January 18, 2010

Retrospective on the weekend retreat

The annual retreat weekend from which I just returned was wonderful as always, and looking back twenty-four hours after leaving the retreat house in northeast Connecticut (the “Quiet Corner,” as I’ve learned this region is nicknamed), I’m still mulling over how much information and stimulation my brain tried to process in the two days we spent there.

I had hours for reading and writing, which is the most valuable gift I could ask for these days. I finished the novel Cost by Roxana Robinson, an account of heroin addiction which was eye-opening, heartbreaking and thoroughly engrossing. I started Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan and got just far enough into it to want to keep reading. I browsed through a book that arrived by mail order just the day before we left, The Runner’s Book of Daily Inspiration by Kevin Nelson.

I wrote even more than I read: 6,400 words in all. Most of it was self-reflective journaling, though a few items were more topically oriented and may develop into future blog entries. In having so many hours for journaling, rather than my usual daily 20 minutes of Morning Pages, I uncovered so many ideas I didn’t even know I had. For example, I homed in on the fact that unlike several years leading up to now, I do now feel that I have sufficient time in my life for writing, work, sleep and exercise; what I really want is more recreation with my kids. Because they are both so independent when they’re home and find so many ways to keep busy on their own – Tim by reading or playing computer games; Holly by inviting friends over, doing art projects or playing endless games of imaginary house or school – it’s easy for each of us to go off in our own direction when we’re all home. And in some ways, this is good; after years of caring for small children who needed near-constant attention, it still feels like a luxury to me to have my whole family at home and still be able to write or fold laundry without anyone demanding at least half my attention. But in the writing I did this weekend, I admitted the pendulum has swung the other way; I’d like to be doing more things together. Walks, hikes, bike rides, cultural events, board games. So I am resolved to try harder to draw the kids back into group activities that include me.

I spent far more time exercising outdoors than I do in a normal weekend at home. I ran five miles on Saturday and four on Sunday, and took an hour-long powerwalk on Saturday afternoon. I ended the day with the aching leg muscles that come from the kind of intensity I don’t normally experience anymore.

Though the greatest draw of the retreat weekend for me is always solitude, it’s also a good opportunity to visit with other people, and I had plenty of time over meals and other gathering times to catch up with long-time friends and meet new ones. The most significant impression the visits with old friends left me with is how much can change in a year. It’s been exactly 52 weeks since the last retreat, and that was when I last saw several of the women who were there. One, who was widowed three and a half years ago, has a new boyfriend. Another left her partner and says she is now much happier than she imagined she would be, enjoying old friends and a household to herself. One woman told me about her daughter’s joyful first semester at college; another described her son’s struggles with the intensity and sometimes eclectic constraints of his first few months at West Point. A grandmother with a granddaughter Holly’s age told me how her daughter handles 7-year-old tantrums. A new acquaintance told me about her husband’s hobby flying lightweight airplanes, something I’d never heard of before, and another new acquaintance told me about attending veterinary school in the West Indies.

In past years, I’ve returned home from these weekends to a minor dose of domestic chaos: messy household, needy children, those things popularly called fires to put out. This year it wasn’t like that. I came home midafternoon to a sparkling clean kitchen and the laundry I’d sorted on Friday all put away in drawers. Holly was playing with a friend; Tim was reading a book he’d picked up the day before. The kids told me about going out for dinner and an excursion to the local bookstore. Coming home to a peaceful household only enhanced the sense of peace that had developed during the retreat, and while I’m happy to be back, I’m also happy to have learned, heard, contemplated and discussed so much in the space of 48 hours.

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