the little classroom


“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”

Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

At this time of year, I keep wondering what Mary was thinking at the manger that night?  What did she imagine was going to happen?  Did she think he would meet a nice Jewish girl and have seven children?  Did she think the angel, the conception, the three kings, the star – did she think this would all turn out ok?

I like the Mary I read in our scriptures just like I like the Jesus I read in them.  They were quiet.  Silent mostly, really. And then when Jesus could have done some big “Tahh Dahh” magic trick to get him out of a targeted ecclesial court with a deck stacked against him he just went limp.  Soft. Gentle. Humble, Quiet.

Solitude for me is a silent thing.  And I like solitude most days.  And like Jodi, I do not over-spiritualize solitude.  Sometimes it is the result of rejection.  Sometimes the result of deep betrayal when speaking would only add to the imagined shame. But most days, solitude is enjoyable because I am a kind person and enjoy my own company.  If nothing else, I trust myself not to hurt myself.  Well, most days.

I love to walk on the edges of Whidbey Island where I live.  Nestled here in Puget Sound and moted by the Salish Sea, I feel more protected here than any place I ever lived before.  It’s not Eden.  There are still a few snakes in the proverbial garden.  But in general, the people here are kind and all worked hard to be able to live here.

These days before and after the holidays can be challenging.  For many they are another reminder of people lost, jobs lost, friendships lost and hopes dashed.  Drinking goes up and patience plummets.  The business of the season fuels exhaustion to which we all feel chained this time of year. And yet, solitude – whether because of disappointment or because of loss has this opalescence to it – fractured light with the violets of mourning with the yellows of hope.

What I have noticed is that in times of pain, loss, and grief, solitude helps me to get very quiet; and getting very quiet helps me to metabolize my pain.  It’s not fun.  But it is healing to step away and lick one’s wounds a little.

My dog Kai allows me to be in solitude while at the same time not alone and I will love him for the rest of my life for the many mornings his licking of my forehead has welcomed me into deeper healing, a new day, silence and resolve to keep going.

I have no idea what to think of Mary or Jesus.  I was once taught what to think but I’m peaceful not being sure of mystery. But I do notice how often they were quiet and chose to be alone.  And I find that solitude helps me to notice what the cosmos keeps handing back to me for my ongoing learning.

My beloved Spiritual Director in the 1980s, Annie Campbell, once called life “Jesus’ little school.”  I know what she meant.  We live and we learn and when we do not live and learn we are, inevitably taught by life until we do.

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