I have written before about how my life is laced through with goodbyes, and about my deep-seated fears of abandonment. This truth sits uneasily with my enduring desire to be alone, but there it is. I contain multitudes. I suspect it has something to do with wanting to be able to choose to be alone.
My anxiety about departures and being left behind continues to manifest in new ways. In the last several years I have noticed an almost frantic reaction to being left alone, and a correlated respect for the power of simply staying.
Let me explain.
Last summer a close family member was in the hospital. I visited often. Others would visit and then leave, but for some reason my instinct was to stay. We would talk and catch up, and then I’d open a book or a laptop. For long stretches at a time I’d sit there – at least as much as I was able to – and we didn’t talk. I was just there. I can’t explain it, but I had a very strong sense that this was the right thing to do.
I have also noticed that when we are leaving the house and Matt walks out before me I feel a pulse of something akin to panic: wait! don’t leave me behind! I get this same feeling during meal times when Grace and Whit are eating slowly, and I’m puttering around the kitchen. We often aren’t always even talking, but I am there. When Matt or others leave the room I feel a that same pulse of feeling: don’t leave. Someone should be there while the children eat, my impulses scream, though I can’t precisely articulate why.
I see the other side of this impulse in the way Grace and Whit’s are drawn, always, to a space near the one I occupy. They choose to read in the room I’m in, for example, or to be on the floor of the house where I am. I know these days are numbered: surely before long there will be slamming doors and barked orders to stay away.
Maybe it as simple as that in my midlife I am developing a respect for the power of simply staying near. Of enduring. Of not leaving. Of abiding. I guess more and more I value presence, even when it is mild and not laser-beam-focused. Our presence is the purest manifestation of our love. And to be with someone is to say: I appreciate you enough that staying near is a priority for me. Because I love you.