Although I often refer to my retreats as time alone, I don’t actually go alone. Spending time with my friends is part of the experience. What is funny is that so many of my women friends are introverts, often kind of quiet and shy. I guess opposites attract.
Monking Friend comes with me to the monastery every fall and every spring. What’s nice is that she knows my family and I know hers. When our kids were younger, we both had summers off, and our husbands didn't, so we would leave the husbands home and take the kids camping. Camping together worked out great: Monking Friend, who grew up in the city, always wanted quiet time to be by herself, and she would stay back at the campsite and cook the meals and stuff like that, while I would take off with the eight kids, hiking or swimming. Having eight kids to play with is ideal for an extrovert like me. Our husbands are close friends as well, and they sometimes take a trip to the monastery together for their own retreat.
Nurse Friend, whom I've also known for years, comes with us on retreat every fall. She and I always take the long hike down to the river, just the two of us, to talk about our marriages, to confide in each other about all kinds of things. She is quieter than I am, far more reserved, and she would be horrified if she knew that Brother Joking teases me about the time she and I went skinny dipping last fall. (He saw us hiking up the path with wet hair and figured it out. "I mean, you weren't carrying swimsuits. Just because I'm a monk doesn't mean I don't know how it is.")
Library Woman comes every spring. Like many of my friends, she has children, and we have many conversations about raising teenagers. Her kids are adopted, and last summer, she and her husband took an overseas trip with them so that they could see the country wherer they were born. Generous Woman sometimes comes on retreat with us, if she can break away from her five kids and large extended family, and she is another extrovert like me. On her first trip to the monastery, she made us stop the car so that she could pick up a rock she had found. She said she had asked the monks if she could bring it home. As she got out of the car, I turned to Monking Friend and said incredulously, "She wants to bring that rock home?"
Monking Friend shrugged and said, "She’s no crazier than you are."
Even though a retreat means time alone for early morning hikes, journal writing, and prayer, my days at the monastery also include long and intimate conversations with my friends. It's a time to confide in each other and laugh at ourselves. It's wonderful to have the time for talking, talking without interruption. No children, no telephones, no doorbells. These are the friends I talk to about my marriage and my children, and about my struggles to find a balance in life. I think that is one of my favorite things about the monastery: the peace and quiet creates a safe place for nurturing friendship.