Cabbage butterfly on goldenrod

It’s been three years since I announced a week of blog-silence: my response to my then-husband’s moving out, the first step to our eventual divorce. In the immediate aftermath of our separation, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about a decision that the two of us had discussed to the point of madness; contemplating the next-step called divorce, the last thing I wanted to do three years ago was talk to virtual strangers about the failure of my marriage.

Reddening witch hazel

It’s been three years, now, that I’ve lived on my own: three years that I’ve survived being separated and then divorced. Although I don’t believe there is a strict time-line for heartache, three years seems nicely symbolic to me. If I can (and have) survived three years on my own, I tell myself, there’s nothing I can’t survive. One of the things that kept me in a marriage that had in many ways already died was an insecurity about living on my own: having married straight out of college, I’d never lived without a parent, college scholarship, or spouse to support me. When I was an under-employed graduate student married to a software engineer with a “real job,” I was terrified that I’d never be able to feed, shelter, and otherwise support myself on an adjunct instructor’s salary. It wasn’t until my ex-husband left that I discovered I’m much more resilient than I’d ever imagined.


Three years later, I still feel a thrill of self-reliant satisfaction whenever I pay bills with money I myself have earned; three years later, I still feel that weathering divorce is the most significant, character-forming experience I’ve ever had. Going to grad school taught me how to be a scholar; finishing a PhD taught me how to keep chip, chip, chipping at a task that seemed impossibly daunting when I started. But had I never divorced, I would never have known how strong I can be when tested. Marriage taught me about the art of compromise and the delicate dance of argument, but it wasn’t until my ex-husband left that I learned how strong a solitary soul can be. In the aftermath of divorce, I’ve learned how to pay my own way, make my own decisions, and face my own consequences. After surviving the aftershock of admitting the failure of the longest, most serious relationship I’ve ever attempted, I’m learning the most valuable lesson of all: self-forgiveness.

Leaf & bud

Earlier this week, while talking to a friend who’s divorce is fresher than mine, I found myself listing the positive gifts I gleaned from almost-thirteen years of marriage. If I hadn’t married, I would have never started practicing Zen, moved to New England, moved into a Zen Center, or briefly owned a house. If I hadn’t married, I’d probably have never finished graduate school, driven several times across the country, started a blog, or briefly led a Zen Group. It’s not that I’m incapable of achieving these things on my own–if nothing else, the past three years have taught me that there’s nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it. But having been married, I was pushed to do things I probably wouldn’t have envisioned doing on my own. Having been married, I left the predictable world of life back in Ohio and did things the rest of my family would never have dreamed I’d do.

It’s easy to look back on past mistakes and wish you’d never made them: had I known at age 21 what I know now, would I have gotten married? That answer is impossible to know. What I do know, though, is that I’m happy now for what I went through then. At the time as I was muddling my way through a marriage that never quite fit, I couldn’t detect anything remotely resembling a plan. Now in retrospect, I don’t see a plan, but I do see Providence. By fate, chance, or grace, the places I’ve been, people I’ve known, and things I’ve done have brought me to this exact spot, and three years after separation, this exact spots feels just right.


On Tuesday morning, I walked Reggie at Goose Pond, a soothing place I’ve walked countless times over the past four years, both before and after my separation. As much as the particulars of my personal life have changed, it’s good to know that water, trees, and stone remain the same, the blueberries that are beginning to ripen this year tasting the same as they always do. I suppose the beginning of August is as good a time as any to start a new life, the separation between Then and Now ripening along with late summer berries, flowering fields, and the first reddening leaves of almost-autumn. If any day can be the beginning of a self-reliant life, why not begin afresh when Nature is at the height of her lush and fecund glory?