After my life mate/soul mate died, it was all I could do to get through the day. I couldn’t imagine a future without him in the world. Didn’t want to imagine it. When my grief started to wane and I could again contemplate the future, I would wonder where I should go to settle down, but my mind always rebelled at the thought. Settle down? Alone? How? He was my home. Without him, there was no home, just a place, and one place seemed the same as another.
Although I am gradually coming to terms with both my loneliness and my aloneness, I still rebel at the thought of finding somewhere to settle when I leave here. (I am currently staying with and looking out for my 97-year-old father.) For a person with hermit tendencies, such as I, settling down alone sounds like stagnation. At the beginning, I would do things, of course, but then as time passed, I would become entrenched in my habits, would get tired of the same sights, the same errands, the same . . . everything. And my world would shrink and continue shrinking until I became the crazy cat lady sans cats.
Most people have not been able to identify with this scenario. They see me now, embracing new ways of living, and say that it will always be so. Perhaps they are right, but still I do fear the stagnation that would come from being too long entrenched in one place alone.
The truth is, whether we are aware of it or not, some form of stagnation happens to all of us. In “It’s a Nomad, Nomad World,” Bruce Chatwin spoke of our heritage as nomads and explained the necessity for keeping on the move, especially by foot. Chatwin wrote:
Some American brain specialists took encephalogram readings of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, than a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to the another, should feel the need for journeys of mind and body, for pep pills or tranquillisers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms. . . .
The best thing is to walk. We should follow the chinese poet Li Po in “the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way”. For life is a journey trough wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it was biologically true. None of our revolutionary heroes is worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao Tse Tung, or Exodus for Moses.
I have no interest in being a revolutionary hero or even a spiritual leader who wanders in the wilderness until fate thrusts me into a new role. But somehow, I instinctively knew the truth — that settling down means mental stagnation. When you live with someone, you don’t stagnate quite as much because there is someone to help disrupt the rhythms of your life. But who disrupts the rhythms of your life when you are alone? (Cats, I suppose, which could be why so many old women alone end up tending a houseful of cats, but that’s not for me.)
I do not know if I am physically capable of a life on foot — I’ve never been athletic. Even if my capabilities weren’t an issue, the problem of getting enough water seems insurmounatble. The sheer volume of water a person needs is staggering. Some areas in the west, you can go up to hundred miles between towns, and in the wilderness sometimes it’s almost as far between watering holes. Considering that a gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds (just the water, not the container), and considering that a someone on foot needs to drink almost that much a day, and considering that at the most I could walk 10 miles a day (and that is being optimistic), I’d need to drag along almost 84 pounds of water. (I read about a college student who dragged that much water with him on a cross-country trip. Actually, he didn’t drag it, he pushed it. Used some sort of cart.)
I don’t know what the answer to my conundrum is, but I have a hunch it will take care of itself. I’d probably start out in my ancient vehicle, and if it broke down or fell apart . . . well, then I’d have to finish the trip on foot.
It’s also possible that I end up doing what everyone does in the end — spend my life in shuttered rooms.
As a matter of fact, right at this moment, I am in a shuttered room. It’s not so bad.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.