At 59, divorced and empty-nested, I opted out of the life I was living to travel for six months, visiting people I know and love overseas. I sublet my apartment and left the country the day before Thanksgiving to the day before Memorial Day with three suitcases, a round trip ticket to Paris and a general idea of the countries I wanted to go to in between … I had no expectations– – and experienced the trip of a lifetime.
As crazy as it seemed to be leaving my family, my friends, my work and the city I love — coming home after a prolonged absence is it’s own unique obstacle course. I worked hard at staying in the present while I was away; didn’t want to take a minute off from my time abroad, to focus on a reentry plan, but I knew I’d have to deal with the backward to forward stream of emotions looming ahead.
I was coming home to two children who were excited for my journey and two who couldn’t understand how I could actually be away for so long, gal pals who had moved in and out of love relationships during my absence, Broadway shows that closed and opened, and new menus in old haunts. And I was different; had to be somewhat further along on my own path after reconnecting with old friends, making new ones –and living my life wearing only what I could fit in my mismatched luggage when I took off. Now I was coming home to an empty space that would start filling up with other noises: kids, friends, work — love.
I knew that Bond, James, (the guy I left behind) — who visited me twice along the route, was flying up from Tampa to pick me up at JFK and getting us a hotel room for a couple of nights … I got an email invitation, just before leaving Paris, from the producer of Jacques Brel to come to a performance my first night back in town (the same production that inspired me to start my trip in Paris …) and thought “how appropriate” — and accepted. I emailed my buddy list offering up a pot luck picnic in Central Park for my second evening so I could just “be” in the presence of all my friends at once. After that, I figured, all bets were off.
Bond, James, was, in fact, waiting for my arrival outside Customs, smiling, with a taxi waiting and gave me my first serious “wow” moment when we were dropped off at the romantically historic Chelsea Hotel. Jacques Brel was wonderful… And in a bonus moment, we met up with Brielle (my youngest) for a quick recap and nightcap before heading back to our hotel room for an incredibly tender evening of “doing a-what comes naturally” — with the lights out and his glasses off — to enhance the moment.
Happy Endings aside, the truth is, it only took me about 10 minutes to fall back in love with my city. The weather was gorgeous, the skyline unchanged, Brielle seemed happy to see me and I was glad for the upcoming gathering in Central Park the next evening with 14 friends who rallied to the occasion.
Seeing my friends however, was easier and harder than I thought … I was certainly in familiar territory but in a brand new mind-space. Observing their easy interaction with each other, I felt oddly outside the circle. They all looked great … this motley crew of friends I missed the most: married, single, straight, gay — everyone was happy to be there — but they’d had shared experiences during my months away that I just wasn’t there for. So I found myself quietly retreating, grateful to be among them, but shy.
Because I knew we couldn’t pick up where we left off — I hadn’t been there in too long, missed too much of their day-to-day. I was out of the loop — I wouldn’t (and didn’t) get the jokes … Not yet.
But I had a musical in development playing upstate and a house rented for a month with two producing partners, that I got to hang out in for the next 10 days, luckily, without wifi or cell service. It was the perfect excuse; time would do its thang, allow the dust to settle and give all of us the distance we needed to know I was back — and get used to each other again. As my friends came up to see the show, 1 by 1 (or 2 by 2) and spend an evening, we did find ways to reconnect … A morning walk, an evening talk, a shared pride in being a part of a new, very funny piece that garnered rave reviews and hilariously put me back on the map, professionally.
That was all a few weeks ago and we’re just getting our jiggy back now. They say I seem older and wiser — and maybe I am because I had the advantage of perspective — and time … the time it took to take care of me.
I settled back in to Bond,James, before he left for Tampa about a week after he picked me up at JFK, promising to give us time to figure out what we want from each other … And he helped me draw a bouquet in an email I then sent to everyone who participated in my journey, cc’d to all my friends who stayed in touch from here — my way of closing that chapter. Attached to the email was the song I searched for but didn’t come to mind back in March when I left the Kibbutz — it certainly summed it up for me now in a shout out (with special thanks to Louis Armstrong for giving it it’s perfect voice).
I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see them bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.
The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces…..of people going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do
They’re really sayin……I love you.
I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.
NOTE TO SELF: It sure is.