The Working Title Is…Retreat, But No Surrender

retreat [ri-treet] (noun)

the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy


a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation


The summer before my senior year in high school was a pivotal time in the ongoing relationship with my pretend boyfriend, Bruce Springsteen.

I listened, over and over and over again, to every song on his “Born in the USA” album and stared for hours at the album cover that celebrated one of his most magnificent physical assets.

Every song on that album elicited a deep emotional response during a transformative time in my life. Weird thing is, this morning, one song popped into my head and is now stuck there.

Side Two, Track 1: No Surrender.

It took me 30 years, but I just realized that my pretend boyfriend was feeding me some bad advice when he sang to me, “We made a promise we swore we’d always remember…. no retreat, baby, no surrender.”

My daughter is now the same age as I was when Bruce first sang those words to me. And within the last twenty-four hours, I returned from one kind of retreat and she left on another, which led me to this cathartic realization.

I’m sorry to break a promise to you, my sweet darling Bruce, but, you see, sometimes we have to retreat in order to keep from surrendering. In fact, walking away might be the only thing that keeps that white flag of surrender nestled safely in our back pocket, much like your red baseball cap that I stared at for an inappropriate amount of time that one summer.

My daughter left on Monday with her entire senior class on a retreat, as in the second definition listed above; a period of retirement for religious exercises and meditation.

I pray that this will prove to be a deeply meaningful spiritual experience. There will be times of prayer and discussion. There will be opportunities for her to share personal messages of thanksgiving and hope directly with her classmates, and time for my daughter to reflect on messages of hope and praise written by people who love her more than words could ever say.

My prayer is that she comes home with a deeper awareness of the blessings in her life, an increased fortitude for facing the stress of the college application process and a profound sense of peace in the belief that God will guide her decisions. My hope is that her retreat will foster within her the strength to never surrender to the stress, anxiety and pressure that permeate our society.

In somewhat ironic timing, the night before she left, I returned from a different kind of retreat, closer to the first definition above. I withdrew into semi-seclusion with a group of women I have known for just about as long as Bruce has been singing those words to me.

What was billed as a “girls weekend” felt a little like I was running away.

While the last few months of my life were not without their moments of brightness–they have been uncharacteristically dark.

I have faced a number of challenges, significant loss and sadness, and it began to define me.

During those same months, people whose friendships I cherish felt the pain and fear of frightening diagnoses and the heartbreaking death of loved ones at far too young of an age.

And while all that was going on, the weight of the world just seemed to pile on even more…shootings in schools and movies theatres, beheadings and bombings, children in freezers and babies in desk drawers. Even though I am surrounded by loving family and friends, it all became too much to process.

I retreated, and it just so happened to be into the arms of nearly a dozen Marquette women who reminded me of one specific thing.

We are Warriors.

Each of these women were keenly self aware of the blessings in their lives. But none of us would have ever guessed the challenges our families and extended families were to face in the years following our college days. As I listened to these women share their stories, who would have predicted funerals for a child, a husband, parents and friends? Who would have guessed there would be job losses, divorce, loved one’s addictions and mental/emotional/physical illness, a positive BRCA gene test and an invitation to a swinger’s party. (Actually, that last one we probably saw coming.)

My retreat was marinated in booze and highlighted by stories of survival, endless laughter, a few tears and a visit from the cops telling these beautifully aging retreat goers to keep it down.

Sometimes we need to walk away to regain the perspective that was there all along…everything is going to be ok.

Retreat, baby, but no surrender.




11 thoughts on “The Working Title Is…Retreat, But No Surrender

  1. Caryl Cooper says:

    Thanks for sharing. You’ve still got a magic pen.

    What are you reading these days? Did you ever read Death Be Not Proud? The Good Earth? A Farewell to Arms?

    Good to hear from you. Coop

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Tracy Ryan says:

    Once again you find an observant creative way to express what is a very complicated set of emotions. You must write a book or Patsy will have to call you, “The friend that never wrote a book and should have.” XOXO


  3. Jennifer Parks says:

    Very poignant, Katie. Hope to read more. (Interesting that my comment follows Betty Breen Desmond’s words. I remember her words for me, 50 or so years ago, at UD.) So glad that you are writing, again, and climbing out of that dark retreat. Great catharsis, writing, as well as a feeling of adding to a better world of words and ideas.


  4. Julie Hamaty says:

    Thank you, Katie, for another beautifully written observation of the world in which all of us baby boomers are finding ourselves. Your pieces are always relevant and I look forward to each and every one! Welcome back!


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