on desert wisdom (or surrendering to reduced circumstances)

There’s a thing people say a lot now. It is well intentioned and kind, an attempt at reassurance. It goes something like: “at least you can get more rest now, though. So that when you’re with them, you will have even more to give.”

I am sure people feel this way. I know people who feel this way. It is truly reasonable.

But for me it doesn’t work that way. I don’t feel rested when I’ve been away; I feel unsettled. Our routines are disrupted. I need to feel their bodies again, to hold them and come back into us. To smell them, though some of their smells are different. It takes work to fall back into the rhythm that is our family this way, and work then, again, to force myself out of it. All that work more than absorbs the extra hour or two of sleep I get those nights.

Another thing I wish I could find comfort in is moving on. J has. Since the beginning. The boys are spending more and more time with J’s partner now. All those intimacies. It is startling and gut-wrenching, and that fact is irrelevant, and damn if that doesn’t have some lessons about life. Anyway, I want that too. I miss being a family of four, that energy. The recognition between parents of some angel-sweet moment, or of a rising frustration. The day trips and shared splurges and compensations we make for one another. The being in love and in parenthood all at once. To just move on. To refuse to be robbed by this of the third child I still long for. To fill the space when they’re away with dates and parties and courtship. But my efforts even to start down that road have produced panic. Rising anxiety. There’s no space here. This isn’t about resting more, being restored, settling into new love. None of that simple stuff offers comfort.

But the other day, I was reading on my porch: Kathleen Norris’s Dakota. And I found these words and suddenly the first glimmer of freedom-in-this was born. She was writing about living in the plains, about space and absence and chosen loneliness. And she said,

I had stumbled upon a basic truth of asceticism: that it is not necessarily a denigration of the body, though it has often been misapplied for that purpose. Rather, it is a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances in a manner that enhances the whole person…. A healthy ascetic discipline asks you to rejoice in these gifts of deprivation, to learn from them, and to care less for amenities than for that which refreshes from a deeper source. Desert wisdom allows you to be at home, wherever you are.

And this possible freedom sprung up. This deprivation, these reduced circumstances. They have been harder to stomach because unlike a monk I did not choose them, and yet. And yet here they are.

It is easy for me to give thanks for blessings. And easy, even, to be grateful for hardship. This thanks-for-deprivation possibility is new, and I feel ready to bump up against its edges and see what it yields. It is nice even to feel strong enough for the curiosity to arise.

So here I am. With the divorce finalized and my girl-cat of half my life dying. With the boys growing and thriving in two homes. With my mom and friends and family who love me like mad. With this sometimes-too-quiet house and its simple good bones. With me.

With me.

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4 thoughts on “on desert wisdom (or surrendering to reduced circumstances)

  1. Thank you so much for your deep deep honesty. I have been walking through divorce for almost a year and a half now, and it is deeply comforting to see some of my feelings reflected. I can only imagine how it feels to not only lose a partner, but to have the whole structure of your family changed. I see so much strength, faith and beauty in your embrace of this time. I don’t know you, but I wish you comfort, and unexpected pockets of joy.

  2. Thank-you for this. I, too, am moving into a situation of reduced circumstances. I am post PhD, and post-post-doc, and I am unemployed, job searching and trying not to panic. A year after my break-up, I am also lonely, and part of me wants to start dating, but like you, I feel anxiety about the thought. And a deep, deep exhaustion. I am trying to just sit with where I am, and I appreciate you sharing these words which are helpful. Also, I love the follow up post with the pics of the boys. My, how they are growing!

  3. My sister-in-law shared something with me that had resonated with her about not always making lemons out of lemonade, but sometimes need to just sit with the difficult time and allow yourself to acknowledge that it is hard and you are allowed to sit in that moment, you don’t have to always put on the brave face of making the best of it. I think that is related because sometimes you need to just let something that is really bad be really bad before you can try to heal or move on. In a way, it is like cancer. You have to go through the process of chemo and radiation and eradicating the bad before you can actually begin to heal. I wish you all the best in this process.

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