It’s been seventeen years since I took my solo journey to Jekyll Island, Georgia. That trip followed a triumphant visit with my oncologist. I’d made it to that important five-year mark post triple-negative breast cancer. I’d also made it to my fiftieth birthday and the trip to Jekyll was my gift to myself. I’d learned how refreshing and renewing time alone could be from my experience of traveling to Sedona, Arizona in 2001–just after I finished cancer treatment. Wedged between a pharmaceutical meeting near Phoenix and a research conference in San Francisco, was a three-day serendipitous journey to Sedona that became a Spirit -led pilgrimage. My hope for my trip to Jekyll was that at fifty-years-old, I would be refreshed and renewed like I was in the midst of those red rocks in the West.
Yesterday, I drove south on Interstate 95 to Jekyll Island. I remembered the reasons I’d chosen it as the place to go on my first intentional solo journey. lt was familiar from going there once on a family vacation, but yet far enough from home, to be a new place of discovery. After turning off the mainland, you drove down a long, palmetto-lined causeway then stopped and paid a fee to the attendant–since the island is a state park. Since everyone had to go through that gate to be on the island, it made me feel there was more safety for a female traveling alone. And while those were reasons I consciously chose that destination, there was an unconscious pull to that place; Jekyll Island was where I would re-learn how to play.
Present entrance gate at Jekyll Island, Georgia. October 29, 2022
Throughout that time at Jekyll, I kept notes in my journal– as I have with all my trips. They were helpful when I wrote my memoir, He Heard My Voice and recalled those days of discovery on that Golden Isle. In Chapter Four, “Child’s Play,” I described how I fell into the rhythm of the summer days of my childhood. The things I’d loved most were riding my bike, swimming, and reading.
While I was at Jekyll years ago, I spent hours riding my bike along the miles of path by the ocean, along the marsh loop, and in the historic village where the Vanderbilt children would have done the same. I didn’t bring my bike on this trip, but drove around the island in near-dark and saw the path that I’d enjoyed in the late evening light of a June day in 2005. The ocean was rough with lots of white caps and the wind whipped the fall-colored, dusty pink of the dune grasses. When I’d first visited Jekyll on our family vacation, and when I returned on my solo journey, I was struck by the muddy, brownish-gray color of the water–compared to the blue-green that I loved at other beaches. Last evening at dusk, the water was like a monochromatic back-drop that seemed more mysterious, more interesting than it had mid-day in summer.
When I was a girl, I loved to swim in my hometown pool. On that first journey to Jekyll, I’d enjoyed the large hotel swimming pool. But now, when I look back at what I wrote in Chapter Four, I see that it wasn’t just enjoyable; it had been momentarily difficult. This is what I wrote:
“The turquoise rectangle reminded me of the joy I had as a child on summer days when we spent the afternoon at our city pool. I felt twinges of missing David when I saw couples holding each other in the romantic-colored light shining on the water. I resorted to seeing how long I could swim under water, just like I did as a kid. I swam and floated until my body felt so relaxed from the cool water that I was ready to go in, content that my day had renewed and refreshed me.” (p78)
I didn’t know then that David and I wouldn’t always be a couple; I didn’t know that fifteen years later, we would be divorced. Throughout the many trips I’ve taken alone since that one to Georgia, I’ve experienced moments of feeling alone, wishing I was part of a couple. Just a month ago, I returned from Ireland where I’d felt that acutely and shared in my post Ireland: People in My Path.
Another thing I loved as a child was reading. Books have been my companions and the entrance to worlds I wouldn’t have known. Back on that June day when I was riding my bike in the historic village, I discovered the bookstore that had served as an infirmary during the Civil War. I’ve long held the feeling that there’s ‘the right book at the right time’ —those literary works that somehow you draw to yourself when you most need them. That was how I felt about the book I found in Jekyll Books when I scanned the paperbacks and my eyes stopped on a striking cover, the book jackets that first call you. It had an image of two women in close conversation, the reds and blues of the artwork, pleasing to my eyes. The title of the book was, A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom from an Unconventional Woman written by Joan Anderson. It was described as a “poignant, insightful exploration of renewal at midlife” and covered the year the author spent living alone on Cape Cod. I purchased the book that seemed like ‘the right one at the right time.’
I took my treasure and cycled back to the beach. Under the shelter of the Pavilion, I spent my afternoon in its pages of discovery. This is what I wrote in the memoir:
“Underneath the shade of the high wooden rafters, I read my book, protected from the harsh afternoon sun. As I read, I was amazed at how spot on the book was for me. In the Prologue, Joan Anderson described her daily walks on the beach and how the expanse of the ocean landscape that extends as far as the eye can see, always reminded her of possibility. Deep inside, I must have known that about the ocean when I planned my trip, I thought.”
Pavilion at Jekyll Island. October 29, 2022
I’d read a section, then walk on the beach and consider what was said. Joan Anderson, at fifty-two, had discovered a serendipitous mentor, Joan Erickson, at ninety-two, a helper to navigate the storm of life. I read that book with rapt attention, feeling Joan Erickson also became a mentor for me.
Thinking back to the impact of that book, it came at a time that was a springboard for future journeys. Joan Erickson had encouraged her mentee to let go of what had been familiar, habitual paths and lean into what was calling. She felt that within us is a knowing that is seated in our intuition. From Joan Erickson’s position–forty years further down the path of life, she challenged Joan Anderson to let go of safety so she could grow forward and be her full self.
Last night, when I climbed up the steps to the Pavilion in the near-darkness, not another person in sight, I thought about how I was in 2005 and how I am now, in 2022. I remembered back over the journeys–the people and places in my path. I saw how the words from Joan Anderson’s book had resonated with me then and had pushed me forward over the years. In her unforeseen friendship and mentorship with a ninety-two year old woman, the world had opened up for her, and like the ocean, expanded beyond what her eyes could see. It reminded me the importance of friendships with people of different ages— those older and younger than ourselves.
Now, it’s time for me to leave Georgia and get back on the interstate, going south to Florida– my final destination and the main reason for this journey. I’ll be reunited with a friend from the Netherlands who I met at the Abbey at Iona, Scotland five years ago. We were in a retreat group of forty from around the world with the focus theme, “The Pilgrimage of Life.” I had no idea then that I was making a friend, a mentor and mentee in the faith, one who had a deep love of Skye, Scotland– a place that I would come to know.
What fresh lessons does God have on this journey? How will this be a time of refreshment and renewal? I don’t know.
My prayer is as always on my solo journeys–for “God to bless me and the people in my path.”
May it be so for you, too in your journey in the coming week.