After the death of a spouse over twenty years ago I heard from several people who care about me that I should find someone else so that I did not spend my older years alone. One of these people got more specific. “It really isn’t about being in love, per se. It is about companionship.”
I must say that the notion of finding someone to share my golden years with never occurred to me. While I wouldn’t claim to be free of esteem issues I do genuinely enjoy my company. I was alone after the death of my husband, but I was not lonely. I always have had a sense of spiritual companionship. I like my own company. While I am most certainly an introvert I am unafraid of striking up a conversation with people I do not know. I have repeatedly traveled by myself and have no self-consciousness around dining or engaging in various activities alone.
I now enjoy a beautiful marriage, but I did not seek him out to avoid aloneness. I am good on my own, and I find that I am good married. I would love it if we have many years left to spend together, and I know there are no guarantees. This is a “till death do we part” union, and who will go first is a mystery.
I do not have a lot of friends. I never really have. I have many acquaintances, many people I care deeply about. I guess that is a form of companionship. These are not people I would turn to should the bottom fall out of my life. These are not people with whom I would share the deeper regions of my being. It isn’t so much a matter of trust. It is a matter of intimacy. It is discernment. It is deepening into the realization of who has really earned the right to come into the more tender areas of my life experience.
I am in a profession that places me in a position to be privy to some of those very tender places in other people. I am often called to be with people in their greatest times of pain and of need. I am sometimes on site when someone takes their final breath. I seek to be a loving presence with those I am called to minister to. Though I do not relish the title I am indeed a pastor. And these same people are rarely friends or true companions.
And so, against the admonitions of those who sought to prevent my aloneness, I have never made companionship a specific goal. Even as I enter the senior phase of my lifetime I am unafraid of being somehow by myself. And frankly, sometimes, I just prefer it.
I do not minimize the beauty of human connection when I say that. We are all hard wired for it. I just do not need continuous large doses of it. I can be much more present and connected with others when I have had ample time to myself. I am a contemplative. I need spaces in my togetherness. Even in my marriage. I am blessed to have a loving spouse that understands that. Our companionship includes times of apartness. The stability of our union is built on that.
So I celebrate the few dear friends I do have. I relish my acquaintances and my congregants. I love my family, and many of my neighbors.
And I find sweet companionship in nature and with the non-human beings that inhabit this earth. I feel connection in passing smiles, knowing laughs, and the shared sting of grief that brings together those without a formerly known bond. The morning birds. The budding trees. I find it oddly in a traffic jam over which none of us has control.
I find at this age that I have more companions on the other side than I do on this. I still feel their spirits with me, and my memories of times together feel real and vital and nourishing.
I may again find myself alone. Don’t worry, my caring comrades. I know I will not be lonely. I have a companion who has shared the past sixty-one years with me. And he is closer and truer and more constant than ever.