Monday, November 30, 2020

Contemplation on Solitude and A Creative Life

There's not a lot there to show the suffering that frigid winter of 1777-78, the men with bleeding feet wrapped in rags huddled around campfires. Just a few makeshift log cabins and monuments to Washington and Baron von Steuben remain. On this day fields flooded with afternoon light ... a small white ice house tucked below the curve of hillside. 

Beautiful, rustic, other-worldly.

Walking through Valley Forge National Park yesterday with a writing friend reminded me of my childhood experiences here. The Girl Scout hot dog roasts ... the evening four of us in high school got arrested for drinking beer, not having read the signs 'no alcohol permitted', as we looked across the barren beautiful vistas ... the landscape as it was in Washington's day, before the development of office parks, shopping centers and subdivisions. 

I remember thinking when I was young how much I needed to get away from this place. I went to college. American University. Washington DC still had the feel of a small town in those days, albeit with an Indian restaurant and a museum to explore around every corner. I needed to get away from the country roads, the farmhouses of Chester County and Valley Forge. I needed a change. I needed to grow.

Now almost half a century later, here I am back in the park. Watching a young couple pushing a baby stroller ... a woman walking her Golden retriever ... me and my friend, who also lives alone, talking about writing, about retirement, about the next act once the pandemic ends. A cliché, perhaps, but where has the time gone?

Solitude and the creative life. Hadn't this always been the life I longed to live? I thought of another writing friend. One who two years ago this coming month committed suicide. My friend and I knew the trauma she suffered, but the last time we saw her she seemed happy, she had just gotten her passport, her granddaughter delighted her. I don't judge people who commit suicide and I don't think others should either, my friend said. We agreed earlier in the conversation that we could never imagine sinking to such depths of despair. Living, though, isn't enough. It's how we live that makes it worthwhile or not. And on a day like this at Valley Forge, how worth it was to be alive. 

I realized, as I had before, that the pandemic, while a horror, hadn't been so bad for me. I was used to being alone and I had the luxury to pursue a creative life. I didn't want or need to be anywhere I didn't want to be. And that as the world slowed down, it suited me fine. I had never had a big family or a lot of social engagements over the years after John died, and retirement from the newspaper, followed up with a parttime career of creative writing and teaching suited me to a tee. Yes, I missed international travel, although even that had had its drawbacks. Airports and layovers ... meals in foreign places that made me sick for days on end.

As we drank coffee at a small outdoor table next to Washington Memorial Chapel, the carillon bells sounded across the brilliant blue sky. Here the ghosts of Revolutionary War soldiers remind us of a time long past but which resonates with the human experience of sacrifice and suffering. As my friend and I talked about our writing projects and our commitment to the creative life, I forgot the long winter yet before us. We agreed to meet again, before Christmas, to share a meal and to write.


Marian Beaman said...

I too seek the solace of contemplation, necessary for a creative life as you describe so beautifully here.

Reading this at the end of a busy day, I hear calm acceptance and perhaps even contentment in your voice. And I like how you circle around to sacrifice.

Well done, Susan.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Marian. I am always amazed at nature's beauty at Valley Forge and the spiritual vibes there. How lucky we both are to live in and around nature and find in it the contemplation so necessary to writing and creating new work.

Unknown said...

Your words and your photography are equally "painterly". I hear your voice in this piece. Flo Shore

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thanks so much, Flo. Our time together as writers always inspires me.

kathleen pooler said...

Lovely reflection, Susan. I, too, have reached a level of acceptance during this pandemic that has brought many blessings—the quieting of frenzied schedules, the solitude, the time to really stop and think. I even bought a new sketch pad and drawing pencils to resume my desire to sketch people and scenes, a long ago past-time. Creativity does require slowing down and clearing our heads of all the noise. You brought me right into that place of contemplation to say nothing of your vivid description of Valley Forge and all the feelings it conjured up in you. Very inspiring.

Susan G. Weidener said...

The sketching sounds wonderful, Kathy. I have a couple friends who have taken that up, as well, during this time. I would love to see a few sketches on Memoir Writer's Journey or Facebook. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire me. I used to love to draw. Thank you, as always, for stopping by the Circle with your reflections.

Susan G. Weidener said...

And this beautiful comment from Sherrey Meyer:

Susan, your post is idyllic. Filled with images of history throughout and memories still near the surface, I can relate. I didn't grow up near Valley Forge, but I grew up in Civil War country near the Hermitage and Tulip Grove, the two homes built by Andrew Jackson, and the Stones River Cemetery filled with graves of young soldiers from the war. There is something comforting about retracing those steps of others and our own. "It's how we live that makes it worthwhile or not." This is a signature sentence, one that speaks to how we should each live our lives out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Sherrey, What a timely reminiscence of Civil War country. How true that the sacrifice of others offers solace and strength, especially now. It is especially poignant thinking of the graves of those who never got the opportunity to grow old. My son went to Gettysburg College and every time I would go there and visit the battlefield, I felt the spirits of the departed who died far too soon in the fields and meadows. As for me, you never know when the writing muse will strike, but my visit to Valley Forge offered that. (PS: Your comment came through, but I hit delete by accident and when tried to go back and hit publish, Google wouldn't let me. My apologies.)

Cynthia Pittmann said...

Such a luxury to ponder life and share with a fellow creative, Susan! Love the feel of this...a quiet day of contemplation.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Cynthia.