After mourning for a time—a widow—I moved like my lonely-heart brethren to inhabit the online dating sites. Someone remarked that the endeavor was like a cage fight with too many participants. Things do move fast.
Whole lives dismissed with a swipe left. Specious flattery handed out with less substance than candy, more ephemeral than air for at least outdoors we feel the touch of a breeze. I am a word-person but words sent via “messaging” this way are so . . . say it: cheap.
Men by the droves attest that they are easygoing and laidback, or post pictures of their Harleys. I don’t know how women pose; I didn’t look for pointers. I did my best to be blunt: heterosexual, sapiosexual, ecosexual. I hear that you find me beautiful but that morsel is not the way in. A mad priestess, I need a high priest. That means you navigate the inner world too—giddy and rudderless, in awe of the Fates and willing to stalk gnosis (know thyself) rather than money and things. There: that’s my profile in a nutshell. Will I get a “Like?”
Then came an artist with talent he must have been born with, dipping at an easel with abandon, far into the night. He had been in prison for white collar crime; I had once volunteered in a prison, I’d been incarcerated in a mental hospital as a teen, I had quested for the meaning of freedom ever since. We had other points of intersection that had me jumping to conclusions. I was certain he knew too much: about injustice, deception and being an outcast. He asked to text right away. Did I seem too eager? He did not text. Ghosted!
He might have been another narcissist. I used to say I’m drawn to them as a moth to a flame. That summer I watched the embodied shadows of real moths die in my candles in the yard, marveling why–when they had so much space in the wild and open night–would they dive to their death for one hit of light? Now, I have trouble identifying anyone without narcissistic injury, the constant need to be admired, often detected first as a flash-fire response to imagined slights and humiliations.
Why do I chuck my dreams to adore another’s?
Because someone’s paintings gleam iridescent on the walls of a gallery–surely that is a testimony to greatness! Or do I bend a knee to the other’s otherness simply because it beats further late evenings staring into candle flames alone? What transfusion is this, me hooked to the machine of another’s glory? When, I wondered in my widow-loneliness, when will the slow drip be replaced by something less ersatz that comes from within?
The checking, the swiping, the messaging, it’s addictive when new faces are loaded daily, the thrill of looking, looking . . . will this one be worthy? Can I trust them? Will they meet all my criteria? I knew the artist was still at it, searching and winnowing, just as I was, unable to stop. Then it washed over me: a wave of the most sorrowful compassion for us all.
This is the prison of our own making. The caged fight to be seen and at last picked for the one we truly are. But if we know not who that is, aren’t we propelled to find someone to tell us? I knew what a widow was and I had applied myself to that grieving. Now what?
On the heels of that daunting truth, I went outside. The nook, the temple out back—it was no longer green. It was cold out there now. Yet out there indeed is where freedom lives. My house, a poster-haven for pandemic loneliness, was a prison.
Said the Buddha statue staring across the dry leaves from me: the prison is your mind. Or as the late great Frank Zappa put it, “What’s the ugliest part of your body?/Some say your nose, some say your toes/I think it’s your mind.”
It was no accident that Buddha attained enlightenment under a tree. He reached one finger to the ground, touched the soil, and said, “as Earth is my witness.” That was no metaphor. He knew, we know, that the natural world is freedom. The lack of artifice frees us. The beauty frees us. The vastness of its dogged urges despite our tall buildings and toxic slag—this frees us. It is larger than mind. Maybe it is one large mind that is thinking us, having a laugh over our silly, wayward thoughts.
I heaved a cleansing sigh into my natural surrounds, and they heard. I sighed not because men and women choose a crowded cage fight when we are most afraid. I sighed to dissolve the cellblock mind and flip the addict’s tryst by turning to simple oxygen, simple breath, sustenance more profound than a lover’s touch. I sighed myself into smiling because escape from prison is just that easy, no candles needed, on an unbearably bright noon portending winter’s advance where I was held by arms of carbon and light.
I wrote the above two years ago, shortly before I actually found someone online. We are still working on a partnership, elements of friends and lovers crafted as elders now who did the marriage-mortgage-kids thing and want something unique that happens to be unchartered in literature or self-help.
We want to live for ourselves and deeply contemplate this sad old world together, a world which we love yet often can’t tolerate in the thick of it. We found a small home in the woods and each do art and spirituality our own way. We attend to children and grandchildren just enough, without daily commitments. It’s a pretty good life, and I’m grateful. Without the online dating site, we’d never have met.
So yes, the experience of scrolling and shopping for love is a bleak one. But clearly nowadays it can yield fruit. Sometimes I think it’s like high school—a torture for most young people, yet you have to go through it if you want to grow up. Funny thing is, being elders in our sixties, we still might have growing-up to do. For the two of us, through all our drawing closer then away then back in orbit again, negotiating the terms of our bond these last couple of years, what has been the constant support for our explorations of each other?
Trees. Thousands of them on the public lands that surround us. Sunsets. A sky that inspires at the end of the day. Water. Where herons fish and pelicans hover. Bright afternoons, fluffed snowfalls, herb garden of summer and deer snorts not far from the deck. We see, imbibe, immerse in these beauties and oracles as never before.
I have the same altar-table now that I had in the house of widow-angst, and I still stare at candle flames but in wonder. Could it be that staying the course is the answer to getting the good life? Or was there a spirit watching over me, guidance delivered beneath my conscious knowing? Or did I only fall into plain old-fashioned Luck?
Freedom followed me here. But I’ll make no mistake about who bestows it. I’m too far up in years to believe it’s bequeathed by a human other.
Here’s how I keep going through s*it, and there’s been a lot of it over the decades. I turn to air, fire, water and earth, and there I find Spirit. I get up close to and love on the flesh of the “great outdoors” with a passion that reaches from the sublime to the frankly erotic. Then I return to the challenges (that’s putting it mildly) of living a human life.
Which, apparently, involves inquiry, experimentation, and dancing the gratitude when things go right. I’m off now to pick a few songs to blast really loud on my retro but mighty speakers, cutting a rug with some old-boned abandon!
Bruce Blank · November 15, 2022 at 3:22 pm
You dared to go there: All the way, full Circle, Full Moon…to the final ‘swipe’: Know Thyself. Wow. BTW I was on the flight home, having not been on an aircraft in a while. Now, every face glued to a phone. Swiping/checking/commenting. I did no such thing. I felt as the Wild Man looking in on Gilgamesh…the last one left.
Sue Westwind · November 26, 2022 at 9:49 pm
It is a strange new world yet here I am trying to hack my way through the blogosphere…thanks for reading and commenting.
tim · November 15, 2022 at 9:37 pm
Cut that rug sister, with all the old-boned abandon you can muster! Shine on you (half-) crazy diamond!
Sue Westwind · November 26, 2022 at 9:50 pm
You are my inspiration. And soon, the dance.
Rob Menasco · January 12, 2023 at 8:07 pm
I signed up for Match.com. I must have answered a hundred questions before I had an account Then I finally hit “go.” The picture that popped up was my last therapist. That was weird but I always liked her. I would have given anything to have a day in the park with blankets and pillows and just held her. She was all business and the last time we talked she burst my bubble. Since then, I have had time to think about that pairing, I think I know what happened.
My favorite movie is “Out of Africa.” I think she must have put “Out of Africa” as her favorite movie too. The story was such a clear picture of what men and women face when trying to make a life together. She want to have and to hold her limoge and her Kikuyu and he wanted the freedom to stay with her when it suited him and then go on safari when he needed to be away. That was discussed by Karen and Dennis many times in the movie.
The most poignant display of their differences was when she went on Safari with him. This one scene said it all. They were making love and Denis said “don’t move” and Karen said “I want to move.” Of course they were in a very vulnerable state and we never found out what happened. Just as it should be. If they solved the mystery for us, there would be no mystery. We’d have a road-map for marriage or at least sex.
The second most poignant scene was when Farah met her at the station and asked if she was going far? “Very far” she said and he said” then you must build your fire very big so I can find you. He was thinking of the days on safari when Dennis, Karen and Farah would camp in the camp Farah had made.
Ruby lipped maidens and light-footed lads.