I've said many farewells. By the time I was twenty-eight, I'd said good-bye to two husbands. Then I lived alone until I was forty-one, when I met Kenneth. I lived with him for nine years before we married. I didn't want to rush into anything. A part of me didn't believe I would stay. But the years passed, and we are still together. It never stops astonishing me, our first hello that keeps moving into deeper greetings and no good-bye.
Sometimes, in the night, out of the blue, when we're in bed, I'll say, "Hi, Kenneth."
The moon shines through our window. We smile at each other in the half-dark, as if we just met.
I love saying hello to Kenneth. Meeting him was like finally finding home.
I sometimes wonder why I was meant to live so much of my life alone. I once dated a man who said, "There must be something about it you like." At the time, I'd been living alone for ten years.
He really got me thinking. "Wow. I like living alone. What a thought!"
It was true. I was having an adventure in what the poet John Keats called "the vale of soul-making:"
Call the world if you please "The vale of Soul-making." Then you will find out the use of the world . . . I say 'Soul-making'-- Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence -- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions -- but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. . . . Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and Troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?
Now I look back and see being alone was my way of making my soul.
In my solitary life, in a life of one good-bye after another, I learned about loneliness. Robert Frost said, "The only way out is through." I went through loneliness. I saw all its sides. Felt all its blows, its aches. Its desperate acts. I experienced how we use others to relieve ourselves of loneliness. I understood that we are loneliness, and it is nothing to be frightened of.
This took me years. Was it worth it?
Yes. I made a soul, I won back my heart. We can only do it the way we can do it. There is no map to soul-making, and no one can win back your heart but yourself.
I wandered for a long time. I traveled to many places, met many people, said many farewells. Farewells are necessary. We grow, we change, we move. I've said good-bye to friends. It has to be that way. We are traveling through the vale of Soul-making.
But now I'm home.
Oh, hello, hello, hello...
Dove that ventured outside
--Rainer Marie Rilke
Dove that ventured outside, flying far from the dovecote:
housed and protected again, one with the day, the night,
knows what serenity is, for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear in the course of her wanderings.
The doves that remained at home, never exposed to loss,
innocent and secure, cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery.
Being arches itself over the vast abyss.
Ah the ball that we dared, that we hurled into infinite space,
doesn't it fill our hands differently with its return:
heavier by the weight of where it has been.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society