Yesterday, I went on my second-ever snowshoe trek and discovered that an hour on snowshoes in a few inches of loose snow is a very good workout. The outdoor temperature was about 20F, and the sun was shining. I worked up such a sweat that by the time I got home, all but the outermost layer of clothing was soaked. (Or “were soaked?”) I am so glad I bought the snowshoes! I found my way around a nice loop of trail that gave me a nice variety of scenery. When I first got to the trailhead, I saw a couple of snowmobilers, but after that, I was mainly on trails that are currently closed to snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles.
To be in a place where I can neither see nor hear road traffic and where the most current signs of life are deer tracks and rabbit tracks intersecting my trail, feels like a small piece of heaven. I’m sure that some of the feelings of well-being come from endorphins, but some of those feelings also come from the pure bliss of being out in God’s creation with only the trails themselves to suggest human involvement.
I am not antisocial, but I am solitary — and I am shy. For so much of my adult life, I could indulge my solitary nature only rarely, and I found it necessary to hide and overcome my shyness. I suppose I got to be fairly good at both, although at times the lack of solitude made me grouchy (Tom would vouch for that!), and the fact that most people I encountered refused to believe I was shy was actually a bit painful. In order to succeed by the world’s lights, I was for years very deeply involved in not being my true self.
In the 20 months since Tom’s passing, I have begun learning to indulge my solitary nature again, which is a good thing, and I’ve also found myself retreating into shyness again, which I am not so sure is a good thing. For all the years of my busy career, I found myself in a very front-and-center position where shyness just didn’t work. So I quite literally set it aside and developed techniques for stepping outside myself. I think the best preparation I had was my 6-month stint as a retail store cashier, just before I stepped into the middle-management position I retired from. I found it easy to simply assume a role for the 5 or 6 hours of my retail shift, a role where I was this outgoing, assertive, friendly person whose line customers liked to enter. I gave up that second job when I accepted the corporate management position, but I never gave up the lesson that carried me for the next 25 years: I could be whoever/whatever I needed to be to accomplish what I needed to do. I simply assumed and played the role.
And I did it with great success. I loved what I did for a living, until a day when all the signs told me that it was time to move on. And once I retired, I found out it was harder than I expected to find the real me amidst all the roles I had played.
For six months, I filled the most important position of my entire life — that of caregiver for Tom during his final illness. And then one day he was gone. My final job was to commend and commit his soul to God, and watch while the angels bore him away. And then, along with the grief and sorrow and the relief over his release from suffering, I found myself on this journey to rediscovering myself.
This was a risky business at first. There was a real danger of simply falling in line with the expectations — both real and perceived — of others around me. It isn’t that there was anything malicious or pernicious in those expectations, but they were not always true to my nature, and sometimes it took a little while to recognize that.
And then slowly but surely, I began to be able to recognize and accept my pure enjoyment of time spent alone. And knowing this made it so much easier to enjoy human interaction when I did seek it out.
I am still shy. It is still hard work for me to step out and put myself in groups of people, and I no longer feel it is necessary for me to wear a role in order to do it. The other night, I gathered up all of my courage to attend a Mardi Gras potluck supper at my new parish home. Right up until I packed up my veggie casserole and set it in the car, I was telling myself I did not have to go, but in the end I went. I put my dish-to-pass on the appropriate table and just stood and looked around. Finally, I spotted our parish priest, and figured it couldn’t be too hard to introduce myself to him. So I did it. And the next thing I knew, I was meeting other women of the parish and beginning to get acquainted.
One of the nice things about being shy, I realized, was that it allows you to sit quietly and listen. And if you get comfortable enough to reach out, it allows you to do so by asking questions rather than talking about yourself.
I enjoyed the evening, and came away with the beginnings of new friendships and the promise of new activities and interests I may choose to pursue. And I also earned a new perspective on being me. It’s a good thing.
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