Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Being Alone

I never used to like being alone. It was a concept foreign to what seemed comfortable and cozy to me. I grew up in a large family, surrounded by friends, family, and neighbors all the time.

 It was not until I was 19 years old when I was a Goshen College student and living in a single room alone for the first time that I realized how strange and uncomfortable it was. My friends on the hall teased me because I could not go to sleep at night unless someone else knew I was going to go to sleep. So, I would make the rounds saying goodnight to my hallmates, and then return to bed to sleep alone for the first time in my life. Now that I reflect on that time, I was not alone. Yes, I slept alone, but my friends were only a few steps outside of my door. Yet, it felt like I was the only one within miles.

And really, from 19 to 36 I made great efforts to stay comfortable and surrounded by a community. In fact, a friend recently complemented me on how skilled I am in creating community around me. When we moved to Kansas and did not have family close by I hustled to create potluck groups, small groups, women's groups, game nights, play dates, and date nights. This is what felt exciting, soothing, and comfortable to me.

 But being alone...who needs it?

 What is ironic is that I had to move away to a city of 8 million people in order to really feel alone, and face my discomfort...seeking out solace and comfort when it was just me. Sure, I started this in the Fall of 2009 when my youngest went to Kindergarten. I started seeing a spiritual director, walking by myself, and settling into being alone. During this time, I was preparing for this great Colombian adventure, even before we decided to come (Thank you, Mary for that observation). And while there were some prayer-filled and soul-searching/beautiful days, there were also days of wandering from window to window looking for other human beings, or calling my mother for an hour, or spending a little bit too long visiting with the North Newton bank tellers. 

I woke up thinking about this today. Thanksgiving. I have keen childhood memories of arriving at Camp Friedenswald and anxiously anticipating the arrival of all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and always extra friends. It is such a deeply happy memory for me. And now, in this very moment, my entire extended family is experiencing those same feelings, scents, joyful anticipation, and love of a big, happy family gathering.

 In this moment, I am home alone. The Messiah is playing in the background. I am roasting squash. There is pie crust ready to roll out. I have work to do, revising an article. I will light a candle. I will wrap up in my alpaca blanket. I will take myself for a walk. I will say prayers for the victims I spent time with yesterday.

And mid-afternoon will see the arrival of my three beautiful children.

 A little later, my sweet husband.

 I spent the last big Thanksgiving mourning what I was missing, there in the Peaceful Woods. This day, I am trying to find the gratitude for what I have here...a simple, quiet, and contemplative time alone, with myself. And there really is so very much to be grateful for. So, I will stir in the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. I will sink into this ever-familiar music. I will engage my brain and my body in productive activities. I will embrace my children when they come home. And when I return to the joy (and chaos) of a more familiar Thanksgiving, I will remember this moment and be grateful.


  1. What a wonderful Thanksgiving reflection, Jen. Thank you.

  2. A very nice reflection Jen. It is interesting how concepts of aloneness are not dependent on the quantity of people you are near.
    You´ve transformed.

  3. From mourning one year to being grateful the next - that does indeed seem like a major transformation and growth. Thinking of you all.

  4. Great post, Jen. This Thanksgiving day has felt lonelier than most and I've been struggling to feel contentment and peace. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. love. Love this post. Love to you.

  6. love you. your awareness is inspiring.

  7. I felt it a bit too yesterday, I had to work hard at feeling grateful.

  8. Miss you. Thanks for showing us yourself again through your wonderful insight. You are so wise.