I’ve been contemplating the effects of my life changes and self-imposed exile on my former life lately. After 21 years of marriage (and then divorce) and most of my life spent living in Lenox, MA (with the usual hiatus for college) – I’ve been spending about 2/3ds of my time in Miami the last couple of years. My business address and staff are still in Lenox – I’ve been working remotely much of the time. Nothing special about that (shout-out to the wonderful, talented people I work with though for going with the flow on this and being awsome…). My business and life partner Heather and I live in a small apartment in Midtown – a newly developed area of Miami a few miles north of downtown on the mainland.
This life is urban – we live in a condominium tower, we work out of the apartment most of the time, we walk to neighborhood shops and restaurants (we can walk to Target! – which is actually really useful….). Almost all of my previous life has been in the country in rural Western Massachusetts. I’m the quintessential nature boy – out in the woods all the time when I was a boy, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping. I’m impervious to weather, bugs, dirt, water – whatever. The rougher the better. I grew up working on our family farm. We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens – you name it – and lots of them. We baled hay off our fields and neighboring fields all summer long. In my mid teenage years my workaholic brother Steven and I put away nearly 10,000 bales between the two of us and many conscripted friends. I can chainsaw, drive tractors and other heavy equipment, fix small motors, take down really big trees without killing myself or anyone else.
Now I live in the city. I don’t own any chainsaws. Other people keep the palm trees trimmed so falling fronds don’t hit you on the head when you are enjoying lunch at an outdoor café. It’s pretty nice.
And I feel guilty about it. One of the things you learn on the farm is that no one else is going to do what needs doing. If you are standing faced with a giant task you might as well get to it because it’s obviously not going to do itself. That work ethic has served me well my whole life. Now, of course, it’s more likely to motivate me to design a website from start to finish in a sitting then to involve clearing out pig styes but the basic concept of “just do it” remains. So why do I feel guilty? Some part of me is concerned that in my exile I’ve left many things that need doing behind – things that are cropping up every day. Watching my former friends and neighbors struggle with winter in the NorthEast lately I would lie in bed at night feeling guilty that I wasn’t sharing in the snow-clearing burden. What of the many forest trails I built in my teenage years? I feel guilty that new saplings are growing up and taking them over, and no one is going to take care of clearing them out. Above my parent’s large old house is an ancient apple orchard that I spent the last 30 years keeping clear of killing vines and undergrowth. Who is going to do this now?
Growing up I had a fair amount of smugness and contempt for my peers from the city who I encountered in high school at Hotchkiss and at Cornell. They didn’t know how to chainsaw, how to get unstuck from a snowbank, how to drive a backhoe…. Now I’m one of them – vaguely concerned that my muscle memory for how to do these things might be fading…
What a strange thing to be worried about…
Here’s what I have found that helps. We tend, as humans, to believe that our present is our future – that whatever we have chosen to do or be is a choice for all time. Intellectually we know this is not true – anything might happen and we do have the ability to choose and change at any time. Emotionally, or subconsciously, however, we believe that NOW is for all time. I’ve found that it really helps to keep this in mind – to understand that life is really a series of chapters, some long, some short, that we write every day. This is my chapter now. Perhaps in a future chapter my past skills and experience become relevant again. Perhaps in a future chapter the foundation I am putting in place for a different kind of life turns out to open the door to another new beginning.
Does anyone else feel like this?
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Yes, I feel like this, too. I’m having a hard morning and I appreciate the reminder that the rest of my life will not be this morning. Also – fun to see my picture up there!
Howell and I have learned about (and learned to relish!) the chapters. Beyond accepting that there is a high degree of inevitability to them, we have also learned three important things about chapters: 1) You can influence certain aspects about how the chapters proceed if you’re paying attention and if you care to. 2) But not by very much. 3) The way in which you value things, experiences, and many, many relationships (though not all) will evolve as the chapters unfold.
We don’t tally either side of the ledger on any of these things. We simply enjoy what’s to be enjoyed, and ignore the rest. Works magnificently.
Lovely observation Susan. Thanks.