At sixteen, I was a camp counselor. It was fifty years ago and back then I took to looking up into the night sky to try to discover who I was or who I might become.
Tonight, fifty years later, as I gaze up at the night sky from the deck of a ship cruising down the Iberian Peninsula and into the Mediterranean Sea, the stars glittering from above, still serve as my guide. Whether traveling with a group of rowdy prepubescent girls in a yellow school bus on a rugged road in Northern Ontario, or embarking on a late-life honeymoon, the night sky once again shows me the way.
Traveling, either close to home or far away, tells me more about myself than it does about the landscape, cities and museums I admire. What I couldn’t have thought possible fifty years ago is that a long sea voyage in the magnificent south of Europe, would be time to reflect on how to navigate my senior years, after I’ve become, so to speak, who I am. Now is a good time to evaluate, to count my blessings and to face the inevitable hardships of growing old. I’m reminded of what my aunt often said, “Growing old is not for sissies.” Senior years can be heavenly, but they can often be perilous as well.
But isn’t grey the new black? There’s grey divorce, grey marriage, grey travel and now it’s a grey honeymoon for my newly wedded husband and me. We’ve set the course for a lengthy journey. No matter how experienced in the ways of the world, no matter how cognizant of the folly of human nature, the cruel twists life can take, two seniors setting out for a month-long cruise in a tiny cabin, must admit to each other that we’re willing to take risks of all sorts. In some profound manner, we are prepared to embark on the new shared life we’re about to shape together.
How will we manage for a thirty-two day sea voyage in one cabin when we’re accustomed to an ample home with three floors and where opportunities for solitude abound? What will this trip tell us about our future together? We’ve chosen to be seated at a table for two rather than an eight-seater table with six others to share conversation. As the voyage continues, we find ourselves happy with each other’s company. We enjoy leaving the ship each day and wondering about coastal towns, either by ourselves or with organized tours. Mostly we keep to ourselves.
Gibraltar is a revelation. During World War II, miles and miles of caves were blasted into the rock, as a fortress to defend the Mediterranean against invasion from North Africa. At night, we peer into the moonlight sky, to the Straight of Gibraltar and across to the coastal lights of Morocco. It is mysterious, loaded with historical meaning, telling of the clash of cultures and armies, of a time when Europe’s freedom from tyranny was at stake. I conjure up visions of spies, British, American and German climbing the steep lanes of the tiny, exquisite city.
What about privacy, might be the next relevant question? Ten days into the honeymoon, so far so good. We are not getting on each other’s nerves. Today husband went off to explore Malaga on his own while I stayed behind. It was a writing day for me. I dream of the concept for a new novel, now that my second novel has been delivered to the publisher. A Canadian woman, young, a nurse, working in the makeshift hospital inside the Gibraltar caves, where the wounded from North Africa are treated. It is 1944. I plot my return to Gibraltar and research prices on Airbnb.
Yes, I do think of home. How we constantly plan our lives, worry about finances, children and careers for most of our adult lives. We want to make sure we are getting it right. What the stars tell me tonight is that striving to get it right all the time, can make life more difficult than it needs to be. Although I am a classic worrier, I’m coming to realize that worry has been a force of negativity inside me that I’m trying to quell. Tonight, I let worry dissolve into the night sky. The wind blows it away as our ship moves toward the Mediterranean.
Ultimately every honeymoon tests a couple’s adaptability, but a grey honeymoon is one where older adults must go all in together as a married couple or resign themselves to a marriage of two solitudes.
Standing close together on the verandah, peering into the night sky, dreaming of times past and present along the coast of Gibraltar, the starry night tells me that we have made the right choice.