I spent the morning yesterday hiking alone in Forest Park. I started at Hoyt Arboretum which has acres of trails lined with groupings of tree plantings. I walked through hemlock, fir and oak groves and eventually came to the redwood and sequoia forest. The light barely filtered through the canopy and the giant red trunks seemed to muffle sound.
I walked out onto a newly built overlook, wrapped around the bases of some of the giants and tried to crane my neck back far enough to see the tops of the trees but finally had to lie on my back on the damp planks to see the canopy. Being surrounded by these ancient living things felt holy.
After taking a few pictures I got up and brushed the needles from the back of me. It was then that I noticed the memorial plaques on the benches around me.
I began to read them. Some were simple and just listed the names of lost loved ones. Some included quotes. I read each one, photographed the ones that seemed to speak directly to me and then pressed my hand against the cork-like bark of a redwood. Something too big for my heart to hold surged up inside of me. The pain of loss, and the knowledge of so many loved ones missing from our lives. The fact that these giant trees have been witnessing hundreds of years of humans living, dying, fighting, loving. The reminder that Dave was missing out on this hike.
My eyes spilled over and I heaved a huge sigh. Spring is coming, I thought, and Dave won't witness it. If he'd been on that hike with me, we'd have discussed the Indian Plum I saw all around me, sending the season's first tiny green leaves up to the dim light of the forest. We'd have commented on the beauty of the pileated woodpecker I saw fly to the top of a giant Douglas Fir. We'd have watched in silence as a Douglas Squirrel climbed over the branch arching above me to watch me as he twitched his tail, nervously.
We, we, we. The loneliness of no longer being a we stabbed at me. The thought Why is it so hard for me to be alone? kept playing and replaying in my mind. The answer came, in my own deep inner voice that sounds like a patient teacher...because you never have been before.
I had 15 years of Dave wanting to spend every hour of every day with me. How do you get used to the end of that when it happens so suddenly? I believe I can adapt and adjust to just about anything. But this? This is going to take a long time. Maybe I'll never get used to it. Maybe we aren't meant to be alone for too long. Maybe it's written into our genetic code to find a mate.
But, despite that, I wonder if this is a test. In order to learn from this terrible loss, I have to learn to be alone. I think the key to this is to learn to love myself and that is where my lesson really lies. The ability to love myself. That might just be my entire life's lesson.
As I left the redwoods for the light of the deciduous groves beyond it, I wondered if I'd ever be able to. Now, as I type this, I think of Dave telling me a thousand times how he could never understand why I didn't see in me what he could see. Why do I doubt myself more than anyone else, even when the proof that I shouldn't be doubted exists? I still don't know. But I suppose, in his death, he's going to get me to see, once and for all, what he could see.
Why isn't it enough for me to witness the beauty of those redwoods all alone? Because half of me is gone and I'm growing a new half. Not to replace Dave, but to be whole again.
Maybe one day, I'll be able to go back to that redwood grove (or anywhere) and feel as though my own company is all I need to feel whole.