When Total Strangers Become Family

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

“Hi, I’m Susan.”

I stuck my hand out to the closest woman of the group as the others piled out of the van parked in front of the Italian villa that would be our home for the next seven days.

“I’m Maureen, and this is my husband Eric.”

The rest of us went round robin, and I frantically tried to find mnemonic devices to remember names, to no avail.

Susan Payton

That evening, after we’d all settled into our rooms and oohed and aahed at the Under the Tuscan Sun-quality views of Lucca in the valley below, we got into the usual chitchat you have when you’re getting to know people. What do you do? Do you have kids? Are you married?

For the first time in seven months, my answer to the last question didn’t stick in my craw. I’m divorced. It sounded so simple. And yet, for months, I’d felt that the question warranted explanation.

I never planned this. I was happy. Something terrible happened.

I’d needed to justify my current state. Until now. My succinct answer was enough.

Over the coming days, we went beyond the polite chatter. I discovered that Karen D. was as snarky as I was. I eavesdropped as Maureen and David talked art, something I’d lost my way from and was looking to find my path back to. I observed as Tara, the only Brit (and non-American, period) in the group started out tight-lipped, but blossomed in front of us as we gained her trust. I felt hope as Marina shared her own wounds and showed me that there was life after divorce, and maybe even love.

By the end of the week, we’d laughed together. Some of us even cried together. I opened up to women in ways I hadn’t with some of my friends back home. They became a safe place. They put their wings around me, protectively. I was one of theirs.

You Might Not Get What You Want...

It’s funny what life does with expectations. You may set your intentions in one direction, but get something completely different. Something you need even more than the thing you wanted. When I decided to go on a weeklong yoga retreat, I foresaw lots of yoga, meditation, and reflection time. I pictured myself curled up in a chair by the gorgeous pool, writing in my journal and reading. Being solitary.

And I did that. But the unexpected gift I also got was the gift of friendship at a particularly vulnerable point in my life. A time that I was trying to shed the label of THIS HAPPENED TO ME, THOUGH I’M TRYING NOT TO LET IT DEFINE ME. I needed to tell these women my story. I needed to shed it, to set it free. I like to feel that I left it in Tuscany. I let it go.

Letting It Go

That was the theme of the yoga retreat, and it hit me between the eyes. One day, during class, our teacher, Lisa, read a poem called, of course, “Let it Go.”

It was all I could do to not start bawling right there.

Hold it together. Do NOT be that chick who melts down in yoga class, I urged myself. I knew if I did fall apart, these once-strangers would embrace me, but I needed to do it alone.

And I did. I wrote about it. I cried. I read and reread the poem. And then I let that go.

The best part of all of this is that most of these women live in my city. Though we were complete strangers at the start, we now have made plans, and I know they will enhance my life. And for me, that turned out to be exactly what I needed from this retreat.

Before You Go

Popular in the Community