Nantucket, My Happy Place
Jun 16, 2016
Sanctuary: A sacred place, a safe haven. Nantucket.
In my new role as widow, I first found joy that lasted more than a moment when I visited Nantucket in 2013. I discovered a serene, tranquil beauty here that caused my spirit to soar and led me to re-evaluate and ultimately re-purpose my life. I came back to this remote island a year later to see whether it was real or whether I had imagined it all. In the interim, I had two flashes of exuberant joy beyond the simple pleasures of time with family and close friends, beyond feasting on great music or losing myself in a great book.
I arrived in Sydney, Australia, on Australia Day 2014, at the end of a long cruise from Auckland through rough waters. After checking into my hotel on a hill overlooking the harbor, I opened the curtains in my room and saw the biggest party that I had ever witnessed. Every kind of floating vessel was in the harbor. People were hiking over the top of the iconic bridge across the water. Parachutists holding Australian flags jumped from planes. On the Rocks, young people celebrated with food, music and booze. The walkways to the Opera were packed. In very uncharacteristic fashion, I wanted to be part of it. I plunged into the crowds that jammed Sydney. That evening I walked alone, again through throngs of merrymakers, to a sidewalk café, where I joined the crowd watching the fireworks. It was my most exhilarating day in recent memory. Never once did I feel unsafe, uneasy or lonely. I was simply thrilled by every moment of the celebration.
Several months later, I joined a group from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for a tour of historic Philadelphia with interpreters/impersonators of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. I knew most of the group, for we traveled together several times a year. Among the newcomers on the trip was the daughter of a couple I knew well. Alice was an airline pilot and former military pilot like Lev IV; and I found her easy to talk to, fun to be with. As two solo travelers, we often sat by each other on our excursions.
One evening after dinner in a grand historic building in an old part of the city, which Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison attended in formal eighteenth-century attire, we passed the Monkey Bar, a seedy place where a prostitute loitered outside. I suggested to Alice that we should take Madison and Jefferson to the bar and watch the reaction. Somehow, that incongruous image set her off in a peal of contagious laughter. Soon, I was laughing as hard as she was. We so surprised our fellow travelers that they jokingly accused us of disturbing their peace and drinking too much. The first was probably true; the second, definitely not.
Alone back in my hotel room, I reflected on my laughter and my friends’ reaction. I realized that they first met me on a train trip across Scotland seventeen months after Lev died. They never knew me as Lev’s wife. They probably had never heard me laugh aloud before, because it was the first time I had enjoyed such unrestrained laughter since his death.
A Different Kind of Joy
My unrestrained joy in Nantucket is a different kind of joy that flows from the peace that I find here. I lay aside all my worries and fears. I live in the present, embracing every day, finding happiness in the days I am alone as surely as in the days when I am joined by family and friends. At the end of my second trip—five years, four months and 29 days after Lev died—the first draft of my book was written. I was finally able to write about a peace that leads to joy, because I at last reclaimed joy.
I did not require Nantucket to find joy, but I did need to find a place deep within me that gives me peace and settled happiness. And so each summer I come back, and each summer I stay longer. On my second visit I found a church; on my third, to my surprise, I discovered community. And during this extended stay, I am determined to finish my book.
Adapted from the Epilogue of my book-in-progress, RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS.
PHOTOS: Top, in front of my White Elephant Inn cottage, August 2015. On Mother’s Day, my daughter posted this picture of me on Facebook, accurately captioned “Nantucket, Mom’s Happy Place.” Middle, Sydney on Australia Day 2014, looking toward the opera house from my hotel window. Bottom, with James and Dolly Madison and Thomas Jefferson, near Philadelphia, June 2014.
I find joy in my long walks in Nantucket, and I am posting photos daily on my Facebook page. I invite you to follow me at www.facebook.com/ellawallprichard.
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