By the time I finished setting up the tent, I was soaking with sweat, and I was still pretty sure I had done it wrong.  My first solo camping experience wasn’t turning out to be quite as stellar as I’d hoped.  IMG_0200

Still, the tent was up, and dinner was almost ready in the dining hall.  Vegetarian dinner.  I was so excited.

I was just two months after a break-up made more brutal because I had not ever let myself deal with my ex-husband’s departure.  Now, when this man decided it was time to leave, I was lashed by 10 years of pain, not just two.  Add to that the death of my gorgeous cat Aslan, and I was a wreck.  Weepy. Weak. Weary, as Mom described it.

So a few days at a retreat center in the Hudson River Valley was just what I needed. A writing class. Vegetarian meals. Early morning yoga. An amazing library.  A lake. And time alone. . . . it felt like a hug on the day when you can least stand one without tears.

After a great day of workshop and three days of the best meals I have ever eaten*, I spent my evenings in my poorly pitched tent reading by a flashlight until I fell asleep sometime before 9. Teary, rested, healing.

On one of the last days there, I visited the gift shop.  I had filled my entire journal and needed a new one for my time in Laraine’s class.  I picked up a great Laurel Burch one with those gold-flecked cats – a tribute to Aslan I now realize – a yoga bag for carrying my mat around the Institute, and a puzzle.  A puzzle of a Tibetan mandala.

I sat one night in the snack shop there and began putting it together.  I did what Mom and I always did – find all the straight-edges and begin to put them together.  As I worked, a young woman about 20 sat down across from me. “Can I help?”

The ease with which this encounter happened strikes me as rare only now.  There, it was perfect and normal to have someone sit with a perfect stranger to work on a puzzle.  It is more of what I want in life.

As we worked, she asked me about myself, and I must have said something about writing or dating or life in general because she said, “Just ask the universe for it, and it will come to you.”

I could have scoffed, whipped out my Christian dogmatism about prayer and God’s sovereignty. But I didn’t.  Instead, I heard her, and I heard truth.  Not the literal – “Give me a husband next week” truth, but the quieter one. The one that spoke of how I bring to me what I ask for, whether I know it or not. The one that said that what I may ask for may be only a representation of the strength and growth and perspective I truly want.

I have never forgotten that woman.

***

Last week, I spent many hours finally assembling that Tibetan Mandala puzzle.  I have carried it through three homes, and I never took the time to put it together.

But there, on the river with the man I love, where peace came easy and Meander only chewed her toys (mostly), I took the time and put it together. It was like meditation. The quiet focus. The tiny bits of progress. The attempts and failures. It was like writing.

Sometimes P helped. Dad joined for a couple of hours. But mostly it was me, early in the morning with coffee at hand.  Piece after piece.

All 996 pieces.  4 were missing, and while there was a time in my life where that lack of perfection might taunt me, now, well, now, it seems like life.  A little edge roughed off. A hole just here.

The way the universe is God’s tool to bring us just what we need.  Be it a husband, a book, or a stranger speaking truth.

*I’m still trying to find rice oil so that I can cook every scrambled egg for the rest of my life in it – these eggs were that good.  If you know where I can find some, I’ll gladly make you a batch here at God’s Whisper when you visit.