Time heals all wounds is a cliché that’s been around a long time. And disputed as well. Counselor Worth Kilcrease wrote “time [alone] does not heal all wounds. A more apt saying is ‘It’s what you do with the time that heals’” (Psychology Today, April 24, 2008). Time is an “active, working process, not a passive one.”
At the twenty-two month marker of Marv’s death, along with the solitariness of this era, I’m rethinking how I’m spending my abundance of unstructured time living alone. As I was sorting and thinning files the first month of staying at home, I spent a few days perusing the writing I’ve done since I started in 2000 after retirement from teaching nursing. I felt an ache to get more disciplined about writing again. About that time, in April, at the suggestion of my friend Marianna Crane, I started taking an online writing course taught by her longtime teacher and coach, Carol Henderson. I’d taken an inspirational in-person workshop with her in 2013, at a mountain retreat in North Carolina, so jumped at the online opportunity.
The purpose of this continuing class is to “write toward balance in challenging times.” Carol provides several fitting writing prompts during each ninety-minute class. We have five to ten-minutes to respond to whatever comes to mind.
There’s no way one cannot get hooked. Here in the seclusion of my study, door shut, quiet, with just Carol on the screen and forty-some writers thumbprint size in the gallery, the class is the next best thing to a self-reckoning of how these times are affecting us. Prompts may ask: What is a typical day like for you today? What was a typical day like before the sequestration? What helps me feel calmer right now? What is worrying me right now? What used to irritate, but is kinder, more open-hearted now? What have you learned about yourself?
I love these ninety minutes. I feel like I’m transported into my psyche. Almost like a forced meditation. Surprising things come up when you’re doing free writes like these. You just write. You don’t take the time to edit, nor do you allow the editor in your head to talk.
Sometimes Carol reads a poem and asks us to respond. Sometimes she “shares” her screen with a painting or a photograph. Class participants may volunteer to read what they’ve written, and it’s informative and encouraging to listen to the diverse responses. As a microcosm of humanity, our class represents all types of experiences and emotions. For sure, we learn we are not alone. We learn it’s okay to be angry, frustrated, happy, or jubilant. We learn other methods of survival.
Most of all, I’ve learned, once again, the power of writing to heal. Get stuff down on the page. When it’s out of your head, down on the page, it loses its power over your thoughts. It’s out there, away from you, to examine, in a remote way, the stuff that was building inside of you, and you can look at it objectively, and I assure you, stuff won’t look as bad or you will more easily arrive at strategies that help you move ahead. Get unstuck. Maybe make some startling new discoveries about yourself.
On a recent prompt, Carol read a piece written by someone sequestered with her husband. That writer had started with “I sit here…” As usual, we had the choice to use those three words as a prompt or write on anything we felt a need to at that moment. What I wrote that day led to my writing this blog post today. Here goes:
I sit here at my desk in the quiet of the study with everything in order around me. The first three weeks of stay-at-home, I sorted and thinned every file in the four, two-drawer file cabinets supporting the 8’ long, 30” deep, white, particle-board, desk top that my son made the week after my husband died, when I wanted to make the study my own, which involved dismantling the side-by-side desks Marv had made for both of us when we moved to South Dakota nearly four years ago. I sorted the bins and stacks in the study closet, too, feeding piles of paper into the shredder.
If I could clear my spaces, I reasoned, I could clear my head, and once again, get back to writing projects on hold after our move four years ago, necessitating starting life over at age seventy-four and then again, nearly two years ago, starting life over as a widow.
My spaces are clean now. I have no excuses. I feel no more flutters in the chest or antsyness to run out the door. Like it’s time for another starting over. I’m grateful for the free time this pandemic has forced upon me. It’s given me time to unclutter my mind and time to rethink my priorities. As Mary Oliver says, we have just “one wild and precious life.”
So I feel a bit more healed now. Like I’ve done some “active working” during this time.
After storing it for a year on a shelf, I’ve taken out the first draft of the story I’d written of our experience of Marv’s cancer. I’ve spread it out on the kitchen table, along with workshop feedback I’ve already gotten. It’s ready for some serious work on future drafts.
What have you learned about your inner workings during the last three months? Grab a pen and write it down. You may be in for a pleasant awakening.
Finally, remember the importance of this day. Honor those who have given their lives for our country. For our freedom. For so much that we take for granted.