Last week I had two days off and a serious need to be outside. Despite a sketchy weather forecast, I took a chance and planned a quick, one night camping/hiking trip. For safety reasons, I told a good friend where I would be and what time I expected to be back. I intentionally picked a place I had never been before but one not too far away, a place that, according to all reports I heard, was little-used and out of the way. That turned out to be true of the hiking trail. The campsite was a different story. When I got there in the afternoon, one site was occupied by a quiet, single camper like myself. Shortly thereafter, two families arrived, one with teenage boys, the other with little ones and a dog. Things were anything but quiet. I went off on my hike, came back, and wrote in my journal for as long as I could before it got dark.

Nearby, the parents of the teenage boys were gathering firewood. They had a huge van, and they actually drove two campsites down to gather as much wood as possible, throwing it in the back of the van so they wouldn’t have to carry it a few yards back to their camp. Nearby, a sign explained the benefits of smaller fires to the environment, and why no fire at all was really preferable. They didn’t read it. I wanted not to care, not to judge. I didn’t succeed. I sat there eating my apple and writing.

The mother, having gotten close enough to my site to see that I was the only one there, called out in surprise, “Are you alone?” I went to talk to her and introduced myself. Her name was Susie. She wore a hot pink tank top and matching lipstick. Lipstick. In the woods. She was from Branson, MO, which is very close to my idea of what hell must be like, an unfair judgement, really, since I have never actually been there. I told Susie that yes, I was camping alone, that I appreciated her concern but that there was no need, as the purpose of my trip was to get away and be alone for awhile. Susie looked at me strangely for a minute. She told me she was the mother of two boys and that she would hate to think of them having no one to go to if help was needed. Being alone, to her way of thinking, was clearly not a good thing. But she smiled at me anyway. “That’s our red and white van,” she said. “We’re just down the way. If you need anything, if it starts to rain, if you just get tired of being alone, come on over.” Then she left.

I didn’t need anything. I had a tarp in case of rain. I would not get tired of being alone. But I was incredibly grateful for Susie in that moment. When someone else holds a space for me, it makes it possible to branch out a little further, take a little bit more risk, relax into things a little bit more, knowing that help and care are close by if needed.

As much as I try to defeat them, I still have my judgements. Lots of them are class-based, education-based. Knowing that often doesn’t change much. The thing I want to remember is that we all hold space for each other. Susie builds a fire big enough not just for her family, but for me, in case I need it. I camp alone with no fire, holding the space of aloneness and willingness to be in darkness for her. My psychology has evolved this way to allow me to do what I need to do in the world. Susie has a different task, a different psychology. Today, at least, I am remembering to be grateful for the difference.

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