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.
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.