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Contemplating an Empty Nest

Colorado Springs Afternoon light through a window

Colorado Springs Afternoon light through a window

COLUMN: In Everyday Life

article and photos by Elaine Logan

I’m at the gas station. It’s been a long day and I have a long drive home ahead of me. I feel sad, the kind of sadness you feel when it seems everyone else has a place to go, a place to be, a place where people wait for them, a place where people need them, and all you have is a heart full of longing.

So I pull into this gas station in Colorado Springs at the far west end of Garden of the Gods Road. The tail end of the day still feels warm but not too warm. My gas tank fills slowly. I clip the lever to the lowest notch so it fills slowly and efficiently. I read that someplace and never forgot. I’m that person – the one who takes a glass soda bottle all the way home from Colorado Springs to recycle it.

I wipe my windshield and I wish I had a paper towel to dry the wing mirrors without streaking, but I can’t find them above the reservoir of windshield wiper fluid. So I walk round the front of the car; I’m holding the squeegee like a torch in my right hand. Now I see the paper towel holder at eye level on the pillar by the pump. I grab a couple towels and turn back to the car.

I’m thinking about my daughter and her father and her brother. My daughter is spending the summer with her father and brother this year. My daughter is a teacher and has the summer off. Her father is retired now and his son is still at school and they all have the whole long lazy summer to hang out in together. I, on the other hand am still working. I’ll have enough money to retire five years after I’m dead. I miss them and I feel sad not to be with the kids.

I’m thinking about absent, long gone friends and how I can’t seem to grasp onto those friendships, no matter what. In the musical chairs game of friendship, I find myself standing without a chair. Friendship is ungraspable. I lean into that sadness and feel that truth. I feel it right here and now and, in spite of how much I enjoy my incredible efficiency, as a human being, I feel tears prick my eyelids. What good is it to be efficient when you find yourself alone?

I feel flooded by a sense of isolation. A wave of lonesomeness rises in my chest. My heart feels ready to burst and I can’t bear it and I wonder if I will give up. Will this be the day I give up?

I raise the squeegee again and I swipe it across the left wing mirror and just as I reach over to wipe the mirror with the paper towel, I hear a voice.

“How are you?” the voice says right out of the blue.

I look up and I see a gray-hair man about my age, early sixties. He has a spare frame and he’s attending to his car the same as I’m attending to mine. He leans over the trash bin to toss a paper towel.

I say, “Oh, I’m pretty good. How are you?”

He says, “Oh I guess I’m fine. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

We aren’t standing talking. We’re continuing to attend to our cars.

I turn and I give him a smile, almost without looking at him, the way you do with strangers, and I say, “Yes it is, isn’t it?”

Elaine LoganAnd I see that it is a beautiful day. I see I’m here. I’m alive and I’m OK. I’m in the gas station walking on the hot asphalt in the bright late afternoon sun. I’m in the middle of feeling my aloneness, and I have a squeegee in my hand and a full tank of gas and I feel that warm sunlight shining now from behind those little hummocks that lead into the Garden of the Gods – the famous avenue of tall redrock, hogback formations. I feel that sun on my face and I get an idea.

Maybe I won’t after all go eat at Marigold. Marigold, where the waitress wants to seat me at the not-so-nice tables away from the windows, the tables for two that would be OK if I were a party of two, but that would feel sad to sit at alone. No, I think, perking up like a bubble of coffee, no, I’ll try that new Thai place I passed on the road. I’ll find a table by the window there, I’m sure, in this carnivorous town. I’ll get tofu and green curry and maybe they’ll have garlic mushrooms too.

I get in my car and the spare gray-hair man gets in his car and we get on with our day. Sure, I feel the sadness, I feel my aloneness, but I see now that I’m not any more alone than anyone else on the planet.

I don’t have go to a 12-Step meeting or a Buddhist retreat or a church or a synagogue or a mosque or even a yoga intensive to find people going through what I am going through. I can find it in the gas station or in the grocery store or in the park by a cottonwood creek.
What I’m going through is called being human and that human fellowship can be as simple as passing the time of day and sharing a moment of gratefulness. When the man spoke to me, I remembered happiness and now I get to remember it again. And I got lots more where this came from. The happy moments just keep on coming and all I have to do is receive them.​

Elaine LoganElaine Logan
​was thrown out of Scotland in 1984 for being too cheerful. She works for Seagate Technology, writing the documents that make the whole world sing. ​Elaine volunteers for hospice and the Boulder Shambhala Center​, and she is writing a memoir of life in Scotland, called “Who, Me?” Elaine’s daughter, Rowena Lair, teaches history in New York City.

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12 responses to “ Contemplating an Empty Nest ”
  1. KevinKelley
    Aug 18, 2015

    Wonderfully written. It was nice to be inside your head and heart for a while, and experience your reaffirmation.
    Keep writing, and keep enjoying life’s moments.

  2. George Ramsey
    Aug 17, 2015

    What an engaging read this was; how familiar the feelings expressed; how evocative the imagery. I also had to laugh out loud that you were thrown out of Scotland for being too cheerful—too much!! Thanks, Elaine.

  3. John Kriebel
    Aug 15, 2015

    Thanks for this — I can totally relate. Brightened my day!

  4. Nah, Janet, but I still travel to the Springs for work, sometimes.

  5. Andrée Lapierre
    Aug 14, 2015

    I like reading your story, curious and touched by the lonely feeling that lives with us sometimes. I liked the gentle presence of these encounters. They get us back on track, noticing and going on. Thanks for that piece.

  6. Helen Green
    Aug 14, 2015

    How well you write, inviting us into your moments of reflection and interaction at the gas station. A good read! Thank you.

  7. Josh Weinstein
    Aug 14, 2015

    That was beautiful Elaine, thank you.

  8. Susie Cook
    Aug 14, 2015

    Touching – Very good! Thank you
    P.S. been told that I’m too cheerful and am glad to have companionship here as well!

  9. janet lyons
    Aug 13, 2015

    Where are you? Are you back in Colorado Springs?

  10. What a terrific story, Elaine! Thank you so much. I felt it along with you. Yes, I must be human too.

  11. Thanks very much Elaine, so familiar, touching, I cry, you are a good writer to represent us humans.

  12. Very nice, Elaine. I couldn’t stop laughing that you got thrown out of Scotland for being too cheerful.

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