It happened about half a mile down the road, the same feeling that overtakes me when we cross the bridge to "our" island in Maine. All of a sudden, no gradual shift, the weight and stress and worry and obligations vanish. In their place comes peace. Yesterday, awash with this gift and admiring the beginning reds and golds and burnt yellows in the trees, I turned into Wonderwell. And then it really happened. It took a great deal of self control to not burst into tears or, even better, to drop to my knees. This place is magic — and "magic" is really not the right word.
In the lovely house, I was welcomed with warm hugs and beaming faces by the residents/staff whom I knew and by equal warmth from those whom I had not known before. I busied myself in preparations for the arrivals of the others: set out the "party bags" prepared by Windows of Hope, placed house maps and room assignments next to them, put the sheets on my own bed, and then sat outside in the sun to wait. Over the course of the next hour, they came — alighting from cars with stretches and smiles and, on the faces of those who have been here before, the same peace and gratitude that I was feeling. "You look so relaxed," said Amy to me. and then we both smiled, knowing the reason.
We broke bread, delicious homemade bread, together and the conversation began. This first lunch is always the most awkward moment of the retreat as we begin to know one another. This time, about half of the women already were friends, but the others knew only me — and, in one, not even me as Mary Ann and I had only talked by phone. After the meal, we sat in circle in the beautiful Great Room. There, the large fireplaces at either end can be lit in the winter, and the sun poured in, illuminating us and blessing the mountains in our view. A few sat on cushions, the rest of us moved chairs, and we began.
This is not like usual introductions although the basics are included. It is more an introduction to souls. Intimacy is immediate as the community comes together. It feels as though we have been together forever and will be together again. We speak of illness and side effects and treatments, of course, but we speak also of sons whose future worries us and partners who can't acknowledge the truth and past addiction and work we love but know we must leave and sadness and fear. We hear and we hold and we comfort each other.
After several hours, we stand and stretch and inexpertly try the jellyroll hug that we learned at our last retreat. Honestly, I had forgotten about this, but Suzy told us that Margaret, who has been here other times but who died a few months ago, talked about this hug when they were together. We had previously remembered the women who have gone on to wherever we go, and this comment brought Margaret back into the room. We will practice this maneuver and get it right today.
Cocktail hour with flowing wine and non-alcoholic beverages and enough appetizers to count as dinner. In addition to those that I brought (a trip to Trader Joe's is always part of my preparation) and the cheese and other goodies contributed by others, Donna, who cooks here, made several marvelous things — the best was a baked brie with sweet walnuts covering the surface. We did, of course, manage to find room for the delicious Indian-spiced dinner. At the table, the conversation was animated and laughter-filled and life-affirming. No talk then of sadness or sickness, but a focus on what lies ahead in life. Does anyone know how to write a business plan? Does anyone have good contacts for various projects? The experiences and knowledge and accomplishments and competence of this group are amazing.
After dinner, about half of us joined a weekly Community Meeting. There was some conversation, but there was mostly a 45-minute guided meditation. I meditate pretty regularly, but this was a long one — that sped by. As has been my experience in the past, meditating with others brings succor.
And then to bed, still early, under the skylight, under the stars.