Updated: Mar 8
I’m cruising up the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut and my mind is playing the melody to "Homeward Bound,” one of my favorite ballads by Simon and Garfunkel. I’m traveling alone today to visit family, something I did so little of during my working years.
Over the years, with work, children and then grandchildren, it always seemed to feel like family trips were too depleting. So when I had a work break, I tried to schedule restful vacations or adventures to new places. It’s not that I consciously avoided family, it’s just that it always seemed to be far more complicated - with focus on unfixable past wrong doings and complex psychological puzzles that involved more psychotherapy than anything I could muster. And I never wanted to leave after mounting more conflict. Now that our parents and brother have left us and we are the remaining family, it feels more critical to find common ground, happiness together and forge some of our own memories.
Why alone? Because no one else is free. That is one of the downfalls when you retire alone. Spring breaks are over and my husband is on a train heading south traveling to Washington DC. But there’re bigger reasons for traveling alone that I’m thinking about and they have to do with being comfortable in my own skin and holding onto my own identity.
I think one of the best things about developing a career and working during adult life, is the slow metamorphosis from dependent child to self sufficient adult. Having worked for many years and having had to make many decisions on my own, there’s something empowering about taking on a new adventure, albeit small, by myself. The only drawback is that my kids are a little worried about me driving alone. In particular, they worry about my need for afternoon naps and traveling 300 miles by myself. For some reason, with retirement, they seem to think my driving skills have suffered. But they have not, and I am probably the only one in my family who actually drives at the speed limit. After all, I only dozed off once at the wheel today - what’s to worry about!?
But beyond that independence is a reality that’s settling in about getting older and being OK with myself. I’ve had a chance to take a hard second look at myself. I’m no longer rushing through my morning routine, starting with getting on the scale and hopping in the shower. Now I do look at myself in the mirror for a few minutes and see the changes that are slowly taking place in my body and on my face. It’s so important at this age to embrace acceptance and be OK with aging. As a cancer survivor and living with cancer everyday, my intellect and heart tell me how lucky I am to still be alive and given this gift of aging. So, I have tried to look at this trip as an opportunity to spend a little time with myself too. And to think about the things that have changed in a good way about me and the things I’d like to do with my sister.
My sister and I could not be more different. We look nothing alike, we think differently, we like to engage in different activities and we move at different speeds. But we love each other and share the same developmental years of the 50s and 60s. I think that in time, much will be written about those years. Just like other defining periods of our culture (like the Victorian era), those postwar years embraced vast cultural change.
After growing up in the same home, My sister and I veered off in different directions exploring on our own. She became a nurse, first in its conventional form and later that led to becoming a healer, embracing all sorts on integrative and holistic medical alternative. Alternatively, I went off to a liberal arts college, played it much straighter and immersed myself in knowledge and learning. I couldn’t seem to get enough. After a second Masters degree, I reluctantly buckled down and joined the workforce challenging myself to make a positive difference in the world. For the two of us, it was usually a difference in the scale in which we viewed the world. Ann looked at things in small detail, and I viewed the world on a larger scale.
Just walking into our homes, you feel the difference right away. Always creative and talented with her hands, Ann’s home is full of projects, some finished and many in process. From baskets to quilts to small objects of art, beach relics and her vast mineral collection, one’s eyes are greeted with a magnificent level of stimulation. Added to that, are numerous animal pets with changing names over time. All I know, is that I am allergic to the cats and appreciate the cleaning Ann does before I arrive. On the other hand, my home is much more functionally oriented with fewer things on which to feast your eyes, but all very special to me.
It doesn’t hurt that Ann’s home is a couple of blocks from the beautiful Maine rocky coastline where we plan to walk during our time together. We will enjoy focusing on our common ground: massage treatments, nature’s beauty, and the many yummy coastal restaurants and galleries that dot this rustic coast.
Jane Rubin is the author of the memoir, Almost a Princess, My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor available in most online bookstores. The royalties are donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.