I returned yesterday from a week on Whidbey Island writing like heaven by day in silence with eight other women; listening to them read their heart stories in their unique voices around the flame in the evening. We wrote at desks, by the fire, in window seats on the bluff above the Saratoga Passage that stretches to Camano Island on the other side of the passage and flows through the distant opening into Puget Sound on its way to the mighty Pacific. Our stories flowed like the waters from early morning as the rising sun set to glistening the snowy Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker) and the white ridges that flank it and set across the water.
I missed the whale sighting, but was mesmerized by the white-headed eagles that glided singly or in a convocation past the window and over the water. The days alternated between blue and cloudy skies, the waters glassy in the morning and rough by afternoon. Fishing trawlers headed out from the shore toward the open waters, and the occasional recreational sailor braved the frosty cold air following the clarion call of coming spring. Who could write?
But write we did, letting memory and joy and pain and resilience burble up, spinning trauma into gold. We cried, we laughed, we encouraged, we comforted. As I listened to these stories, the conventional imperfectness of my life seems trite. I wish I could tell you about each one of them, but of course the sisterhood of confidentiality prevents that. As a woman, their stories captivate me; as a writer I am awestruck by the beauty of words and the myriad ways to dig into and to tell the stories of our lives.
When I left North Carolina, I left a circle of women friends who shared the depths of their hearts around the circle of my coffee table and beyond. I have missed them so much these nearly six years. This group of women who create their stories far away from my coffee table 51 weeks of the year have become my new circle. The participants have shifted and overlapped through the four years I’ve been with them, but within 24 hours even those new to me are in me.
Last year there were three young women and four elders. This year there are two youngers and seven elders, called to the wisdom circle by the incomparable Christina Baldwin. I admire the tenacity of the youngers, already achingly beautifully exploring their lives on the page and wishing I had done so at 35 and 40. I wonder how my life might have been different if I had taken such a close look. I wonder what it is like for them to be in the presence of the rest of us, some twice their age; we who grew up in a different time, and raised our children in another century—before computers and school shootings—and have lived two-thirds or more of our lives. Though the particulars of our experiences are different, we share a woman story that is one. And we are all finding healing on the page.
I am back home now, in my aerie above the valley instead of the sea, a different mountain on the horizon. Alone in my house at my desk with a candle from the Circle lit near my computer to remind me the others are out there in the world. Dinner tonight won’t be as healthy or as delicious. There will be no voices around the table. It’s raining. Though each of us have returned to the stuff of our lives, we will still find nuggets of time to write like heaven. Our lives depend on it.