March 15, 2006

Room for friendship

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.

walking

13 comments:

Jenevieve said...

If I wasn't moving to Scotland, I'd be asking for details of your next retreat!

Friday Mom said...

(o)

T.W. said...

That sounds so serene. I wish I could take a retreat.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Oh jo(e), you live such a nice life. This retreat sounds wonderful.

Out of curiosity -- what do you do with your kids when you're away for a whole weekend? I guess they're old enough to stay alone now; but what did you do when they weren't?

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: My husband was here with the kids on the weekend. On the weekdays I was gone, my youngest went to a neighbor's house after school since the older boys and my husband get home later.

I could not get away for a weekend when my kids were very young because I was always breastfeeding -- and my friends had babies and toddlers too. In those days, we would meet for a couple of hours at a restaurant and that would be our entire "getting-away" time. But about eight years ago, when none of us were breastfeeding anymore, we figured out that we could go away for a whole weekend and that is when we started going to the monastery. All four of us women have husbands who are at home on weekends AND extended family in the area and that made getting away without the kids possible.

As my kids have gotten older, I've stretched the weekends out to four or five days ....

Marcia said...

I just want to say that I understand the rock thing. I pick up rocks. I have one from childhood with a smiley face painted on it that I now use as a paperweight. I have 3 rocks from the Oregon coast displayed on my bathroom counter (decoration! :) I also have stones that are for rubbing. One has a pattern engraved on it and another has "Serenity" stamped on the top. When I was young, someone said, or I said (I can't remember now how it went) that I was going to have pet rocks instead of children. So far this has turned out to be true.

andrea from the fishbowl said...

"...because I'm a monk doesn't mean I don't know how it is."

I love that line.

What a thoughtful post jo(e). The retreat sounds amazing. Mind if I ask what part of the country it's in?

jo(e) said...

Andrea: It's Mount Saviour Monastery, in Elmira, New York.

ccw said...

I love to read about your friendships. Your friends sound so nice and each compliments your personality in some way.

The picture is beautiful!

Mona Buonanotte said...

I've never gone skinny-dipping, and I think it's about time I learned!

jo(e) said...

Mona: Soon as the weather gets warm enough, we will plan a blogger meet-up ....

listmaker said...

I totally understand the rock thing. People wonder why I have a basket of rocks, a plate full of rocks on my coffee table and tiny cairns in my yard; I'm constantly digging up rocks or bringing them home.

see-through faith said...

It's time I found out about retreats. We don't have many here in Finland - but God invented planes :)