Slowly the mind seeps into consciousness. I am awakening. Morning. A feeling of sadness creeps up towards my throat and then down to the solar plexus. Not strong, slightly heavy. Really no problem… until the mind begins, and the mind does begin.
‘Sad’ it says, and the feeling increases a bit. ‘Getting old’ it says a few times; ‘nowhere to go, nothing to do, future downhill’. Then, as it has now defined a ‘problem’, it begins to look for ‘solutions’. I observe. ‘Maybe if I lived closer to my children’. Which one, I wonder. What for, I ask myself shaking my head lightly. Now I am fully awake and I explain to this drowsy wandering mind that I have no place in the lives of my children, that I have no life of my own at the moment in either of the places where they live, and that I do NOT want to spend these still active years taking care of grandchildren (Good God! They’re too old to need taking care of anyway; it would be more like their taking care of me and that certainly would bore them all the way out of any love they might have!). Just think what a bother I would be: a bored, frustrated bother. What in the world would I do with myself?
The mind continues: ‘Get a project. Go to Africa like Wendy, join a volunteer organization like the Red Cross, go to Haiti to help sweep up after the quake, make yourself useful.’ Africa…. hmmm, could be interesting. It could also be deadly, a woman my age. ‘Wendy went, she is your age.’ Yes, and she got kidney stones from dehydration and had to be operated on. ‘She married an African 20 years her junior.’ I don’t want to marry an African and run an orphanage; I don’t like children that much. Wendy has a hang up about never having had children; she is satisfying her frustrated maternity. Not for me.
By this time, I have opened my eyes and am running my hand over Salomé’s tummy. Salomé is the love of my life at this moment. I scratch her behind her furry ears. She closes her bright, brown miniature-schnauzer eyes and cuddles closer to me. Better than Prozac. Something begins to open in my chest and I hear myself whispering: “Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful” over and over until I feel the gratitude filling my heart. My chest expands, all heaviness disappears, there is opening as I take a long, deep breath. “Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful”. Salomé has sat up and is looking at me, trying to figure out if I am speaking to her. I smile; she licks my hand with her rough pink tongue. “Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful.”
Suddenly, I am filled with gratitude and wonder. I have such a busy life, there is so much to do –and I love it all- that I barely have time to watch a film on the DVD occasionally. Where in the world would I find time to go to Africa! Suddenly I can see my life. I can see me creating exercises for the workshops I give twice a month, giving the workshops, seeing private clients who want to learn to do the work I teach, the beloved work that has brought me to this place of peace inside, this freedom that even allows me to contemplate migrating to California or Africa, knowing I could do it if the impulse moved me. ‘All this and heaven too’, my mind says as I realize that I am busy enough to almost not have time to write. Almost.
Salomé has jumped down to look for a ball in hopes that I am awake enough to play. I roll over on my side and close my eyes again. It has been almost 18 years since I began my second life. The first one –the one where I was wife, mother, homemaker- ended after 30 years. Jokingly I often say now “30 years of forced labor and I retired”. Don’t professionals get their retirement after 30 years in a company? Well, I had been in the company of my husband for 30 years and I retired. It sounds better in Spanish: we say “jubilada” which means ‘jubilated’ or released into joy, into jubilation. “Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful.”
I love my children, I loved my family, I loved my husband (I still do, and it makes me so happy that he has found someone else to live with), and I was ready to be free and to be me for the first time in my adult life: I was ready to BE.
The slight morning heaviness is gone. Outside the window, the day is cloudy. Rain. ‘Don’t forget your umbrella.’ Sometimes the mind takes care of necessary details. ‘It is Wednesday.’ Wednesday… Wow! It’s Wednesday! Train Day! Today I go from Madrid to Barcelona on the AVE (which means “bird of prey”) that has a white engine car shaped like the head of an eagle, with two bright red eyes when it is in the station, and reaches a speed of over 300 km/hour. To me it is the most beautiful train I have ever seen and to ride in it once a week is a treat. That may seem strange, considering that the 3 hour ride is to see a sport’s doctor for a pain under my shoulder blade that has lasted almost a year, but the AVE is one of the gifts of having that pain. Three hours out and three back. Six hours of absolute freedom to do with what I want. Absolutely alone with myself. I don’t need to talk to anyone or take any calls on my cell phone unless I want to. Just me and the beautiful train.
Now I have leapt out of bed. Salomé has hopefully brought the old sock with the ball inside to see if I will play, but I have other things to do. Mind is busy now: ‘Don’t forget to take out booklets and program for Saturday’s conference’. I wonder what car I am in on the AVE. The tickets are on the dresser: 7. Good! I usually am in 8, and 7 is one car closer to the cafeteria car which is number 4.
Morning chores: breathing exercise, molding massage, shower, Chi Kung, walk to park with Salomé, glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in the local café –one of the few places in Madrid that allows dogs. Back home, breakfast, answer e-mails, gather material for Saturday’s conference, watch clock. Eleven a.m. and I am free! Walk to corner with bag hitched over left shoulder (spare right one). Heavy with two sandwiches and a Tupperware full of fresh lettuce, nuts and cheese, dressing: healthier than the food on the train.
Thanks to the new aches and pains that seem to appear as time pushes on, I now take care of myself much more than before. Until the body began making demands, I gloriously ignored it. However, on Wednesdays I allow myself to go to the train cafeteria and buy a bag of chips and a coca-cola. Junk food.
My bag also contains my notebook and several ball-point pens (in case one or more run out of ink). It is my writing day. I usually spend the three hours outward trip writing at least one full vignette for this book -sometimes I manage two- and gazing at intervals at the shifting countryside racing by. The multicolored earth. Tones of pale beige through gold and onto green. Olive groves and softly rising hills. Little towns whisking by, their red tile roofs and church steeples, occasionally the ruins of an ancient castle on the highest hill. I write and gaze and write some more, then breathe deeply: it goes by so fast.
I have no idea what I will write today. On the corner, I hop a cab and the minute I settle in the seat and give the driver instructions to take me to the train station, my mind begins: ‘Slowly the mind seeps into consciousness. I am awakening…’ and my hand has extracted pen and paper and is making notes.
Atocha, the largest train station in Madrid, is in itself a delight. An enormously long rectangular building three stories high with an arched glass roof, it contains a tropical rain forest. Yes, a live one with a mist-making watering system that keeps it humid. At one end of the dark green forest with its huge spreading leafy plants, there is a swampy pool containing hundreds of turtles of all sizes. It is definitely overpopulated, and turtles crawl upon other turtles to take spells out of the water and dry off. The air around is filled with the chirping of myriad sparrows who find the cool, green, humid habitat more inviting than the bustling traffic outside.
Today I am late, so I don’t pause to enjoy the strangeness of an inside forest. I arrive at the gate barely 4 minutes before closing time. Another minute’s walk and I am on the train. Sighing, I settle back in my seat, release the individual table from the seatback in front of me, spread my notebook out and continue writing: ‘Sad’ it says… I know that I must get my writing done on the way out: coming back I am usually tired, my body protests the sheer torture of the treatment, the needles and painful massage, and I allow myself to watch the movie, read a book or simply doze.
A half hour later, when I glance up at the luminous panel at the front of car 7, I see we are travelling at 303 km/hr. The morning’s heavy grey clouds accompany the landscape that whisks by. And the silence, the train makes no noise, people watch the movie or doze or read or work on their computers. Silence. “Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful.”
I wonder if this treat, this being in love with the train ride, is the reason my shoulder doesn’t seem to finish getting better. ‘Well, now: there is a possibility. I could take out an AVE ticket to different places on all my Wednesdays; write as I travel, have lunch in Sevilla or Córdoba or Aranjuez or Valencia or Jerez or Murcia and return in the afternoon.’ I watch my mind turning over the possibility and smile. I could do that, nothing to stop me now. What fun!
Yes, I whisper to my heavy mind of the morning: you see, we are free. Wednesday can be our day, no clients, no programming workshops, no answering e-mails or even afternoon walks with Salomé; no having to plan or procure lunch. All day, surrounded by strangers with whom we will not talk at all (unless they are handsome and charming and want to flirt). So you see, I tell my silly morning mind, I really do have a full life here, no need to run to children or to Africa or anywhere for that matter. For the time being there is nothing but gratitude at 300 km/hr “Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful.”