Sometime in February while I was scrolling through Facebook, someone posted a short video of himself playing his guitar. In the message that accompanied the video, he mentioned that he was on a solo retreat in a cabin. It had never occurred to me until then that a weekend of solitude and reflection could be so attractive. A wise scholar and friend recently observed that, like she and her husband, my wife and I are “well married.” It’s a phrase that we had not used before but now fully embrace. We are indeed well married. We have been together nine years and married for eight of them. We enjoy each other’s company. We like working at the same place, coming home for lunch together and having dinner together, either at home or at a restaurant. We love to travel; we love to hike; we love working on projects; we enjoy our time at home, especially our evenings and weekends. My wife has some friends and colleagues that she will occasionally meet for lunch or dinner, and sometimes she makes it an overnight trip. It is good and healthy for her to stay connected to these people because they have been so important in her life and her profession. Sadly, there are more such connections in other parts of the country where she has previously lived, and it is difficult to see them regularly, but she makes an effort to do so when possible.
I have a good friend who lives not too far away from us – someone that I have been close to for over twenty years now. We see each other about once a year or so, and I enjoy catching up with him. We also stay in touch by phone, texts, and Facebook. I don’t have as many good friends as my wife does, that is, people I have maintained a close relationship with through the years. As gregarious as I probably appear to colleagues and acquaintances, the truth is I am a bit shy around people I don’t know, unless I am speaking to groups professionally or performing music. I was in a band for ten years, so I’m sure there are folks who would scoff at the idea of my being bashful in any shape or form. There are times, and only for brief periods, when I truly cherish being alone.
When I saw that Facebook video post, I began to think about what it would be like to have a solo weekend, something I have not done in decades. I started thinking about what I would do for 36-48 hours away from my bride, my sons, my job, our home – away from anyone I know. I could read, write, study, play music, think . . . and think some more. I was a bit nervous about pitching this idea to my wife, because the last thing I wanted her to think was that I don’t adore her company. This woman who clearly loves me unconditionally thought the idea was marvelous and whole-heartedly supported my decision to find a cabin in the mountains for an early spring mini-sabbatical. Now, as I write this blog entry, it is Saturday afternoon. I am looking out the window of my retreat cabin in the high country of North Carolina less than a mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I arrived yesterday afternoon, checked in with the inn keeper in town, drove a few miles to my cabin, settled in quickly, poured a glass of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and headed to the front lawn to relax in a comfortable chair and take in the view. I followed the inn keeper’s recommendation for dinner at a local bistro, which was an excellent choice. I bought just enough provisions at the grocery store to keep me satisfied for 24 hours, and then I came back to the cabin and sipped more whiskey. A storm came through last night and dusted the surrounding hillsides with snow, just enough to make it pretty but not so much to make it a nuisance. I got up a little before 8:00, put on the coffee, and started reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel I read many years ago and have mostly forgotten. I have been reading news and op-ed pieces from the New York Times. I have had a fire in the fireplace for the last couple of hours, and I have played songs on my guitar that I haven’t attempted in years. I don’t intend to leave the cabin until heading out for dinner this evening. I am enjoying a full earth’s rotation of intense relaxation.
Just now, as I sat down to reflect on this opportunity and record it, I was reminded with great humility and appreciation of just how fortunate I am. When people from my past ask me if I’m happy, I usually reply, “I’m the luckiest guy I’ve ever met.” I am lucky to have a wife who ignores my inadequacies, my rough edges, my occasional crudity, and loves me with a devotion that is almost frightening. It is also a gift to love her more than I have ever loved another woman. I am lucky that my sons seem to be stable and healthy in spite of great tragedy and loss they have endured. I am lucky to have extended family who may not always understand me and perhaps even worry about me, but who also love me deeply and take joy in my happiness. I am lucky to have been raised by parents and grandparents who encouraged creativity, loved to laugh, believed in the virtue of hard work, and exhibited rock-solid faith in their God and their church. While not having the advantages afforded by a higher formal education, my parents made the necessary sacrifices to ensure that I received the advanced degrees I desired and that have opened up so many possibilities for me through the years. I have had some incredibly inspiring teachers.
I have lived almost 56 years with few significant health challenges. I have some modest talents and skills that are fulfilling to me and that I have been able to share with others. My wife and I have a standard of living that is not enjoyed by a large majority of the world’s population. We are grateful, even though we know our generosity does not extend as far as it should. My career path has presented me with so many memorable encounters and experiences, and I know how rare that privilege is. Lastly, we have the resources that make it possible for me to rent a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains to be self-indulgent for a weekend and to contemplate the precious gift of a good life that I’m sure I don’t deserve but for which I am eternally grateful. And to my bride, the love of my life: thank you for giving me this place and time.