Yesterday was an odd day. Early afternoon was beautiful – 70+ degrees, sunny and warm. In shorts and a t-shirt, I tucked in the spring bulbs we had purchased, finishing in late afternoon as a breeze kicked up and the grumpy clouds of a strong cold front pushed onto the western horizon. By 5:00 PM the sky was leaden and the wind blasting, stripping many of what remained of the leaves and even swirling some in the house when I opened the door to let the dogs out, or quickly back in when they decided being outside wasn’t much fun. An hour later a wind-driven mix of rain and sleet made itself known on the roof and windows, and the temperature had dropped through the 40s. This morning the temperature stands at 36 and the wind continues to rattle the windows. Odd, indeed. Seasonal and timely, this week before Thanksgiving, but still odd.
Change is like that sometimes. It sweeps in and mixes things up in an unsettling way. Sometimes it is gradual and subtle and gentle, easing one through almost without notice, but times like yesterday can be jarring and abrupt. I find myself thinking a lot about change lately. The election was sort of the culminating event for me in this regard, and it was as unnerving as a violent storm, but my thoughts of change go back farther than election day. It’s impossible – for me at least – to pinpoint when these thoughts began to gel, but certainly election night was a tipping point of sorts. I think turning 50 last summer played a part, providing a sort of wake up call to me, reminding me that time is always moving forward, emotionless and steady. No, it’s not a mid-life crisis; I’m not that age-conscious. It’s more about peace and balance. It’s about choosing what allows me to feel centered and whole, about purpose and passion and a sense of place. It’s about a life that keeps me anchored even in the wildest gale.
It’s not just about me, of course. I’m not so self-centered that I believe my life is more important than anyone else’s, nor do I feel that I can be an island, disconnected from the human experience. I know that I am a part of a whole, and that storms will always happen, time will move along, and change will continue around me, and yes, to me. It’s not about escaping change or even about managing it. It’s about living a life that is moored, that change can rock but not sweep away; a life that floats and persists despite the waves.
I’m not exactly sure what that life looks like, being only human and far from wise. I sometimes look to the dogs for a model, and I think it’s a pretty good one. Work hard. (I’m fairly certain they consider it their job and purpose to monitor and protect our little home and yard from all dangers, real and imagined.) Play joyfully. Sleep deeply and often. Love unconditionally. They are quite good at all of it, professionals, really. I’m jealous and awed by their innate ability to live simply and fully. Clearly they are more evolved beings and they show us daily what it means to be authentic. Sure, they occasionally eat dirt clods or roll in poop, but they do what they do, all that they do, because their heart and mind and instincts tell them it is an appropriate and necessary thing to do, so they listen, showing us patiently, again, what it means to be true to one’s soul.
I’m pretty sure that it’s unrealistic to really live the life of a dog, but I’m willing to use it as a guideline at least. I always become even more inward-focused in winter, a little more introverted and contemplative, the long dark evenings providing the perfect opportunity for introspection. This year I am even more so. I find myself exploring scenarios, allowing myself to imagine the possibilities of many options and circumstances. I sit and envision homes and locations and situations in which I might find myself, might anchor a life. It’s an easy meander of the mind, a stroll through prospects diverse and perhaps improbable. These are most certainly romantic and nostalgic journeys, allowing the imagination to dream. They are not based in fact but rather in the suspension of critical thinking, permission to ignore the details and questions temporarily granted, “what if” conversations with myself.
In my last post, I shared some things I have learned as I processed the results of the election earlier this month, one of which was that where I now call home might not be the place where I can really be home. I’ve been thinking a lot about that. It’s not so much that I feel unwelcome or unsafe here, but rather that I feel increasingly like a stranger. This may subside, of course, but it has caused me to wonder about how a place, the combined effect of location and population, can create a sense of home. That’s not to say that I don’t have people who I love deeply here or that I don’t marvel at the beauty of this rolling county. It’s simply that I feel like my sense of belonging here has been compromised. This place is a part of me, having grown up and lived here, in this county, for over half of my life. I’ve been shaped and influenced by this place in many ways, many – but not all – positive. It is and will remain a part of me, but maybe, just maybe, I’m not meant to be a part of it.
I know what some of you are thinking, and I agree – there is no such thing as a perfect place. However, there is, I hope, a place that may be perfect for me. A place that retains what I love about this area – four distinct seasons, beautiful landscapes, a rural atmosphere with relatively easy access to the unique opportunities of urban areas, a reasonable drive to the ocean. A place with space and air and sun and room to breathe. All of these geographical characteristics combined with a tradition of acceptance and tolerance, of respect for liberal values and individual rights, with a strong sense of community and a reverence for differences.
I also know that some of you are probably thinking that I should stay and work to make this place better, and that is an admirable goal. I do believe that over time, this little chunk of Pennsylvania will evolve as well, but I’ll admit, without pride, that I don’t think I have the energy or patience for that task. I hope to make any place I call home a better place, but I feel that I’m at a stage of my life when I’d like to be working with my community to strengthen it rather than against it to change it. No, I’m not being a Pollyanna about this; I realize that differences will always happen in any location and that conflict is unavoidable. I’d just prefer that those differences not be about my civil rights, for example. Call me selfish if you will.
Before you ask, no, I am not packing today. This is not a rash decision nor one without consequences. There is, of course, Jeremy as a part of this equation, and we are in different places in this regard, so there is much to consider and discuss. There is my job, parts of which I love and would miss terribly – primarily people – and other parts of which cause me tremendous stress and could go away without regret. There are friends and family and animals and a home to consider. Many, many things. This is not a done deal by any means, but I will admit if you asked me I would bet on a move at the moment. It’s where my heart and mind are currently meeting.
When we kicked off this school year, I landed on a theme for my teachers – Be Fearless. It is the final slide of every faculty meeting presentation, a mantra I hoped would empower all of us to be brave at a time when public education is under constant fire, to follow our hearts and guts when it came to making decisions about children, to take risks and confront our fears of failure. I believe I knew, even then, subconsciously, that this mantra was as much for me, perhaps more even, than it was for my staff. There is a small metal sign hanging on the bulletin board in my office, plain white letters hanging on it by magnet: Be Fearless. It is an important reminder of a difficult task. A move such as this, a transplanting of sorts, would be far outside my comfort zone. The details could become paralyzing, the worries causing sleepless nights. There are so many reasons to abandon this thought. But…
But I won’t abandon it out of fear. I may abandon it for other reasons as this plays out, but it won’t be out of fear. I owe myself the courage to try, to take a risk, to explore what life has to offer. I can be brave. I can be fearless.