The first month of fall semester was busy and exhausting, both physically and emotionally. My two oldest kids went off to college, my two youngest went back to school. I have spent all kinds of time with my 60 first year students, helping get them adjusted to college life. My husband and I have had to deal with his mother's transitional issues as she gets used to living in an assisted living home. I've already read 480 pages of student writing. And after 35 years of trying to correct my horribly near-sighted eyes, I've been struggling with contact lenses and glasses to correct the newest problem: I am now far-sighted as well. (Yeah, I have said how getting old would be cool, because I want to be one of those old women with all kinds of wisdom, but I am not so much in favor of the body falling apart. I suspect my deteriorating vision is just the beginning. Sigh.)
I feel ready for a retreat.
I'll be spending the next four days at a Benedictine monastery, a place that includes a working sheep farm, an octagonal chapel, and several guesthouses. The monastery, located high in the hills above a sleepy river, overlooks farm pastures and woods. The monks gather in the chapel seven times each day for prayer, but in between the services, they discard their dark robes to drive tractors, feed sheep, make beeswax candles, and pick apples.
Longtime readers know that the monastery is a place I return to, again and again, as a way to keep my life in balance. I'll be staying in an old stone farmhouse with two close friends, Monking Friend and Nurse Friend. We will talk on the drive there, catching up on each other's lives. At every meal in the guesthouse, we will talk about books and movies, about our children and our marriages, about our failings and our goals for ourselves.
But we will also have time, each of us, to be alone.
I'll walk through the sheep barns, breathing in the smell of hay and manure, and I'll spend hours sitting in the sun at the edge of the sheep pasture, watching the sheep trot along in single file like school kids. I'll take a nap in the afternoon, with no kids to interrupt my sleep. I'll lie on the grass in front of the chapel and read a book. I'll walk down the stone steps into the crypt to light a candle in front of a centuries-old stature and sit cross-legged on the stone floor, staring into flame.
Of course, I am an extrovert so I'll also seek out my monk friends. I'll go hiking with Brother Beekeeper, to hear what's been happening in his life. I'll wander into the candle-making workroom to hang out with Brother Joking, who is sure to tease me about the time I went skinny dipping in the river or the time that Monking Friend and I backed into a lamp post, knocking it down. At meal times, my friends and I will chat with the other guests, enjoying that intimacy that happens so quickly when women on retreat gather around the table.
I will return next week with beeswax candles, monastery cider, and stories to tell.