Turning off the television, I sit in silence watching the flames in my fireplace lick the brick of the walls. Just last night I had children surrounding me at Harris’ 3rd birthday party. We sat around an outdoor fireplace. It was a chilly evening, so some of the youngsters gathered around me by the fire. I took the opportunity to teach them that the hottest part of a fire wasn’t the reddish white flames, but instead, the blue flickers that laid closest to the logs. The blue part of the flames were the most intense, the most dangerous, the hottest part of the flame.
Watching the fire in my fireplace tonight, I find myself weary, bone tired from the last few weeks of a lovely trip to Argentina. I arrived home around 11:00 a.m. yesterday morning after traveling most of a day and night. Oh, the trip was worth it. Good friends had invited another widow (there’s that word again) friend and me to join them as guests at their second home in Buenos Aries. I quickly accepted and Robbie and I spent five amazing days with them and then flew to Iguazu Falls to extend our trip. We enjoyed every inch of the hiking trails and vistas of the most incredible waterfalls in the entire world.
Coming back from a fabulous trip, I seem to be feeling some of that blueness. I wonder, is it much different from the flame that I’m watching in my fireplace right now? Is the intensity of my “blueness” not a symbol of the emotion that I’m feeling after having experienced such an extraordinary adventure? Is this blueness not much different from what I taught the group of three year olds that sat huddled with me just last night? That the blueness of the flame that lay closest to the logs was the same that lay closest to one's heart. It was this blueness of heart that was also the most dangerous, the most intense.
Arriving home yesterday, my day was full. I had a mountain of mail to attend to, a dog that was punishing me because I had left her for two weeks, voicemails I needed to answer, and bags to unpack. Clothes to wash and put away. Oh, and not to forget, my youngest grandchild’s 3rd birthday party that I couldn’t wait to attend. I was bone tired, but beneath the surface of my fatigue,I felt a blueness that I knew was dangerous, hot to the touch, with caution not to go to near.
The last few weeks have been full of milestones. The number 20 seems to be rearing it’s head, with great vigor. It has been twenty months since Steve left this earth. March 4th, we would have celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary, and embarrassing as it is, I counted I have taken twenty trips to some pretty incredible places since Steve’s death.
So, on this anniversary of 20’s, I am sitting here feeling the coarse, searing blue flames envelop my heart, my soul, and the very air that surrounds me. Why? What is this sadness that consumes me without a moment’s notice? There is no rhyme, no reason, there is simply a sense of vacant, deep loneliness that is so prevalent that it seeps into and sears every ounce of my being.
After wholeheartedly accepting this fabulous invitation and we began making plans for this amazing trip. Our hosts, Jo and Sig made our travel and time spent in Argentina easy. They gave us guidance, suggestions and then hosted us extravagantly once we arrived. There were no hitches, only great fun and adventure.
Once Steve was diagnosed with GBM, I knew our traveling days were over. Steve and I loved traveling and we did so like a well oiled machine. We traveled well. We had great adventures, we knew exactly how much time to spend in the large cities of the world and how to divide our time traveling through the countrysides of far away places. We knew we could easily rent a car. I would drive, Steve would navigate and off we would go. Steve would spend days, weeks, months preparing, researching and deciding our routes, cities, and places of interest, and I would pack my bag and jump on the airplane. Travel was easy, it was thrilling and I was carefree.
Twenty years Steve and I explored the world in this fashion. He did all the research, I reaped the rewards and we loved the ying and yang of traveling together.
Little did I realize, until this trip, that I was right five plus years ago…”our” traveling days were no longer. The ease of having Steve as my guide, my anchor were over. I was soon to discover that being responsible, that traveling without a husband, that being prepared at all times was now not so carefree, but, my new normal. Quite different from what Steve had allowed me to be accustomed to, now I needed to travel in a savvy way. I needed to know and understand the lay of the land. I needed to be prepared, to have done my homework, to be equipped, and I was left feeling ill-equipped, helpless, and wanting Steve to be by my side.
It might not have helped, that the day that Robbie and I were hiking the wondrous trails of Iguazu Falls was one of the “twenty milestones”. March 4th would have been my twenty year anniversary, yet, here I was marching forth on paths with vistas that Steve would have loved. Here I was in the southern hemisphere asking everyone I could find if they could show me the nighttime constellation, The Southern Cross. These were stars Steve loved and spoke of often, yet, when I asked about them, all I was met with were blank stares.
I found myself looking at Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and Steve was so clearly by my side, but then, he was so absent that my own throat tightened and the blue hot flames licked against it's walls and tears flooded my eyes as I witnessed one of God’s finest creations.
Twenty trips later, and I still find it hard to come home. I find, much like my now empty suitcase, the very core of my bones feels just as vacant as the inside of this hollow suitcase that needs to be put away. I realize these past few days at home, I open mail, I tend to the yard, I roam from room to room with a mile long to-do list, but I do it all at a robotic pace. The searing blueness licks at the sole of my heart. It cautions me to stay away.
Maybe it’s the whole “20” thing, twentieth wedding anniversary, twenty month anniversary of Steve’s death, twenty trips I have taken to fill the void. Maybe that’s why this blanket of emptiness fills me now. Maybe in another twenty trips, twenty months, twenty years I’ll be beyond this blueness that I can’t seem to shake, or maybe, just maybe this incredible love I have for the man who loved me so intensely will continue to lap at my heart much like the flames that flicker brightly in my fireplace tonight.
What I need always remember is, no matter how blue the flames, my heart is full of the warmth and wonderful memories that Steve and I made, not only in our travels, but in our lifetime. While Steve is no longer here to share the adventure that traveling provides, I pray I will always find joy in continuing to explore, and in the contentment that there is in coming back home.
For what it’s worth,
Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”