Sometimes it’s tiny things that seem like miracles—I would like to think those small graces come from God. Last week, for example, I was working at my job, at the front desk of a fitness center, and a VIP member asked if we could change the music to a more upbeat selection. I said sure but I really did not know how to change the music. It’s controlled by an app on the computer and I’m not very familiar with it. I’m usually the only staff person around on my shift. Then, seconds later, one of my co-workers walked by, a young guy who had worked the early morning shift and was back at the gym to do his own workout. I asked him if he could help me and he did. Call it serendipity but I tend to see God’s hand in it.
I’m trying hard these days to see God’s hand in things. Every night I write down my consolations (high points where God met me) and desolations (low points or times when I felt disconnected from others or from God). This practice, also known in Christian circles as the “examen,” helps me process my days and reminds me of good things that happen every day. Sometimes I remember the high point immediately. Other times I have to muse on it for several minutes. But I’ve never gone a day without noticing some point of grace. As for desolations, I simply acknowledge them and pray for strength to move on.
I’ve been practicing the examen off and on for many years now and I find it very grounding. These last few years have been especially challenging as divorce has turned my world upside down in every imaginable way. First off, as a single person my schedule is all my own. I don’t have to check with a spouse to determine if we’re free to do something. Second, as a single person I need to hold my own in social situations. Recently I attended a friend’s memorial service, an event that normally my ex-husband would have attended with me. But I was alone and I had to cope with my feelings on my own while also meeting new people and navigating the crowd. It’s not that I never did anything alone when married, but now that’s just a constant and it takes getting used to.
I recently listened to the audio book “A Matter of Death and Life,” by well-known Stanford psychotherapist Irvin Yalom and his writer wife, Marilyn. In it the couple reflect on their experiences of Marilyn’s steady decline and finally, her death. Irvin writes the last few chapters after Marilyn, his wife of more than 50 years, passes away. I couldn’t help but compare my situation of divorce with Irvin’s situation of losing his wife. In some ways it feels to me that Peter, my husband of more than 30 years, has died. Never again will our relationship be the cozy, warm marriage that I experienced. Yalom talks about how it takes most widowed people one or two cycles of years (and holidays) to cope with a spouse’s death. I’ve found that to be true myself. This year was the second set of holidays Peter and I experienced apart and it was easier than the first.
I had a dream recently where I was in some kind of social gathering and people were telling stories. I told them, “Oh, it’s too bad Peter isn’t here—he was great at telling stories.” I do miss Peter’s companionship and the way we balanced each other—me as introvert and he as extrovert. I think I’ll always, at some level, have grief over our failed relationship. It will subside with time, but perhaps it will always be an element in the background—just as if he had died.
My friend Heidi says that by our age no one escapes grief. I think she’s right. In just these past two years alone I’ve gotten divorced, my brother has been diagnosed with MS and my mom is currently fighting breast cancer. We are all getting through the pain, but it takes a toll. It’s why I recount my consolations every night. Despite the hurdles, God still cares.
As I write this, it’s now been 37 days since our divorce was made official. It was an anticlimactic moment for sure. The final papers used the word “dissolution” of marriage rather than divorce—as if our marriage had been some kind of substance that was dissolved with chemicals. It is a strange choice of words. Upon receiving the papers I felt some relief, that our discussions back and forth about spousal support and asset division were finally over. I felt good we had accomplished it all without attorneys—instead we used a neutral mediator—and we both felt we had handled things fairly. In the big picture things were good.
But what about the small picture? What about those times when I experience something (a TV show or a book) and I can’t wait to tell Peter. Then I realize I won’t be telling Peter. Does that make the experience just as real as it would have been? Yalom talks about this struggle in his book. Yalom asks if there will still be value in doing things, knowing he can’t share them any longer with his wife Marilyn.
Then there is the future picture. I had looked forward to the empty nest years with my husband and the flexibility we would have to travel and do things together. Most of all I looked forward to being grandparents together. Now, all of that has changed.
But I get ahead of myself. It’s not helpful to look too far ahead. Again, it’s better to count my blessings each day—to count those points of consolation.
What was my consolation today? That’s easy. It was the time I spent with my friend Kate, also divorced and also a writer. We caught up as we walked around the Berkeley Marina together and then stopped at a taco truck for lunch. Probably the most sublime moment was when we saw a great heron standing only a few feet away from us. It was a majestic bird, with its long neck and snowy white feathers. It reminds me of all the beauty in the world waiting to be seen. I may have pain but there is a world of beautiful things ahead of me too.
Thank you for your deep contemplation. Life is made up of ups and downs ,but praise God is always with us. I love you, dear Allison
Allison, I too have been learning to use the “examen” at day’s end. Thanks for writing about the helpfulness it’s provided. Love the spotting of that beautiful heron & you actually captured the picture. A glimpse of something surprisingly good. Tender care to you.
Thank you for putting words to these familiar feelings.
Beautifully written Allison.
This should be published. So insightful and honest.
Truly a word for all.
Beautifully written, Allison. I’m glad you are moving through the most painful last few years. I know that God is holding you in the palm of his hand as you build a new life.
Love and blessings, Brookie
I found your essay.very healing I think you have made major strides in your single life Allison, keep up the positive thinking. It will heal you! Thank you for sharing such deep and difficult thoughts. Fondly, Mary Ciocca