Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thomas Wolfe Was Right

In the four-plus weeks since Ma'ikwe told me she wanted a divorce, I've been sitting with the question of where is my home, or even, where do I want it to be. I had relinquished any claim to Sandhill (my home of 39 years) last summer, in the context of my recommitting to my marriage in July, and now I'm adrift.

And I moved to Dancing Rabbit (in November 2013) with the understanding that I was primarily investing in my marriage. While I liked DR, I wasn't planning to invest in it in the way I had Sandhill, in part because I was trying to husband time in my busy life to make more of it available to my partnership with Ma'ikwe—that being one of her points of dissatisfaction with me.

Now, inadvertently, I find myself with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to time. While this is unsettling and unlooked for, it is also opportunity—even if the ramifications are only now unfolding, like the petals of a flower that only blooms by the light of the full moon.

Here, in broad strokes, is the changing landscape of my life:

It is both humbling and ironic that I have placed so much of my life force in my marriage—even shifting major commitments to devote more to it—only to have my partner unilaterally choose to go another way. I had meant for our commitment to be for life, yet it turned out be only for as long as I was able to retain my wife's interest.

Now, instead my marriage being a centerpiece of how I apportion my time, I am facing an immediate future completely devoid of that component.

To be sure, I have many precious relationships (which have been playing no small part in sustaining me through the emotional chaos of the last month), so I don't want to imply that I am friendless. That is not the case at all. I just don't have my partner and best friend—which is a very large hole in the bottom of my relationship boat.

For decades my work scene has divided into three parts: a) as the main administrator for the Fellowship for Intentional Community; b) as a group process consultant and trainer; and c) and as a homesteader living on an organic farm. I have cherished all three roles and was very happy with that mix (not the least of which was the variety and spice it added to my life).

In deference to my advancing age and my wife's urging that I divide myself among fewer things so that there would be more available for the partnership (believe me, the dark humor in this has not escaped my attention) led me to exit Door C (my homesteader role at Sandhill) and to prepare for getting out of the center of FIC (Door A). 

This year we are replacing me with a new Development Director (we hired Aurora DeMarco last month and I'm training her now) and a new Executive Director (likely to be hired this spring). By the end of the year I expect to have all (or at least most) of my administrative tasks handed off, which will make an enormous difference in the time I devote to FIC, dropping it from 25-30 hours/week to less than five.

Door B is the one I'm retaining, along with writing.

For the last four decades I've mostly taken this as a given: my home was Sandhill Farm. Then, at a crossroads in my marriage in 2013 (the crossroads before the current one), I chose my marriage over my community, and started a new adventure at DR. Though that hadn't lasted very long (15 months) before Ma'ikwe opted out of the marriage, now I'm a stateless citizen—since my main motivation in coming to DR was my partnership.

In the last four weeks I've been sitting with the novel question: where is home, or where do I want it to be? Here's a current overview of the possibilities:

—Dancing Rabbit
To be fair, Ma'ikwe is not asking me to leave DR, nor has anyone else at the community. Rather, it was my knee-jerk reaction to Ma'ikwe's decision. DR is her home and it didn't make sense to me to live under her shadow, especially with the critical things she had to say that led to her decision that I wasn't a suitable partner. I didn't need to be reminded of that.

Since then, however, there's been a shift and DR has been rehabilitated as a possibility. A big part of that is that I believe Ma'ikwe to be gracious and I don't think she wants me out of her life all together; just out of her bed. We have a dynamic and constructive teaching life together and we both want to continue that. Naturally, this would be facilitated working out of the same home base. Further, I feel confident that Ma'ikwe and I will be able to rescue a substantive friendship if aided by proximity. I'm confident that we can suss out that distance that still celebrates the attraction without engaging the repulsion.

Another attraction for me is ongoing participation in the Men's Group that meets weekly at DR. I've been part of that every Sunday evening that I'm on campus and ambulatory, and have come to highly appreciate the depth of caring and honesty that characterizes our time together.

One thought I had early on is that I could try to recross the bridge I walked over in November 2013, to see if my old community would have me back. Sandhill has the advantage of known people, known land, and known rhythms, making it easier to plug in after forays to distant communities. Plus, Men's Group would be just as accessible from Sandhill (only three miles from DR).

For many years I was convinced that I'd die at Sandhill and was comforted by the thought. I would be going back to the Place where I had the most profound sense of home I've ever experienced. and that has a spiritual quality for me. The members there already have a good sense of the work in my life and what it means to me, and I could exchange my income for a room from which to write, read, and meditate. It's a cozy image.

But I had relinquished all claims to membership at the time of Ma'ikwe's and my recommitment ceremony last July, and the community was not obligated to have me back. From the road, I wrote and asked if I could meet with the community to discuss this when I was next in town. I turned out that there was no time in the March 4-10 window when everyone would be home, but Stan offered to get together with me and let me know what the group was thinking.

That happened Sunday. While assuring me that the community would absolutely be there for me if I had no other options, Stan gently let me know that the community felt it would be better if I didn't return. Sandhill has always been small and intimate, and since my departure there has developed a flow, ease, and camaraderie that is precious and that several members felt might be jeopardized by my coming back.

While sad, I accepted the news, appreciated the honesty and caring with which it was delivered, and knew right away that I did not want to impose myself on my old community. The energy would be all wrong. It evoked for me Thomas Wolfe's novel, You Can't Go Home Again, that was published posthumously in 1940. In it there is this dialog:

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.
Though I had only been gone 15 months, the community had moved on and the bridge was closed. It was the risk I took in choosing Ma'ikwe.

—Near My Kids
It happened that I visited both my adult children in the days immediately following Ma'ikwe's announcement, and my daughter, Jo, reached out to me, suggesting that I consider finding a place to live in Las Vegas (where she and her husband, Peter, live happily). The point being that I could be nearer both of my adult children (Ceilee lives in Los Angeles, with my two grandkids) and it would be just as easy for me to travel from Las Vegas as anywhere else. 

Though Amtrak doesn't stop in Vegas any more, and trips to the East Coast (where over half of my work has been centered in recent years) would be a slog, I was both touched and attracted by this offer. I want more contact with family, and I never have too much time with my kids. Also, as a consequence of dating Ma'ikwe while she lived in Albuquerque, I discovered that I enjoy the desert climate (who knew?), so Jo's offer has merit.

—With Close Friends
Throughout the past month I've received a considerable outpouring of support from friends, which has been a balm on my bruised psyche. Included have been a number of offers to have me live with or near some of these folks. Perhaps in the same community.

My sister, Alison, offered me temporary sanctuary in her home in Chicago. My dear friend Annie (Ceilee's mother) offered her home to me in Floyd VA as well. I've been deeply touched and honored to receive these offerings.

In addition, I've been thinking about speaking with some of my closest friends to see if there'd be interest in forming a community together (a non-residential version of which is featured in the current issue of Communities: "Time for Tribe: Boomers Get Connected"). I haven't made any inquiries yet, but it's on my mind.

• • •
Taken all together, my life has undergone tremendous upheaval this past month (shaken, not stirred). On the one hand I'm sitting with terrific uncertainty, which may not yet be done unveiling itself—witness Sunday's conversation with Stan. On the other, I have unparalleled opportunity (something my Men's Group helped me see two nights ago). It's an interesting place to be, and that's what I'm concentrating on right now: just being and letting all the feelings and energy flow through and around me. It's fascinating, for example, that in all the swirl of emotions I've been experiencing, fear is not present, and anger only a little bit (thank you, EMDR).

I am not rushing to decisions, and Ma'ikwe is giving me room to sort things out, for which I am thankful. The work immediately in front of me is sorting things out with Ma'ikwe: where are we now, where are we headed, and how to get there as gracefully as possible. She is, after all, still the love of my life.

In the pre-dawn tomorrow, I'll board a train for Chicago, and then switch to the Empire Builder, bound for Portland OR, where I'll be with Ma'ikwe for two days. It will be the first time we'll have been in the same room, or even heard each other's voice, since her decision (all communications from Feb 6 to the present have been by email). In addition to doing a workshop together (planned well in advance of the divorce), we'll have the chance to delve more deeply into the questions I posed above.

I'm looking forward to it very much. 

P.S. I selected the title for this blog intuitively, and with no conscious thought of Ma'ikwe when I did. Rather, I was thinking about my relationship with Sandhill, which has been powerful in my life for a long time. I have realized only now, with amusement, that the wolf is Ma'ikwe's totem animal. Make of that portent what you will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the sound of it, at this point, you can't afford any wishful thinking. Patchouli oil and good vibrations will not automatically clear the air of long burning resentment. It seems improbable that you can stick around DR and hope to be "friends" with someone you clearly blame for your precarious living, work situations along with your "not as close as you would like" relationship with your kids. Good luck!