“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he [Bilbo] used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Bilbo knew what he was talking about! Whether the road is literal or figurative or, as I have often thought, it’s more like leaping off a cliff and hoping you can fly, who knows where one step can lead.
Five years ago tonight, I left for France with my friend Catherine, who was moving there, and her two cats. The story of our flight has become legend since her cat Oliver cried pathetically from the time we set off from a motel near the airport in Boston to the time we arrived at her friend Cathleen’s apartment in Paris. When Oliver suddenly stopped mewing at one point, we crammed ourselves into the bathroom on the plane (and really, how people join the Mile-High Club is beyond me) to take him out of the cat carrier and make sure he was still breathing. To this day, it reminds me of a scene from an old movie in which one character tries to bring back another character from an overdose by walking them up and down a room and pouring coffee into them.
It was the start of an adventure that has led to places I didn’t even imagine at the time. When Catherine offered me a plane ticket so she could take both cats in the cabin, I was bored, frustrated, and depressed over my post-accident situation. When a car hit me as I was crossing a street, I had just resigned from a freelance project manager position. I had big plans for revamping my approach to being self-employed and was excited by the possibilities. However, the after-effects of the severe concussion I sustained left me unable to use a computer for more than a couple of hours a day, which left me unable to work in my field. I had cleaned all the closets I could clean (and there wasn’t much to do in that respect to start with since I’m compulsive that way), couldn’t work on cleaning up digital files like my photo catalog (see limited computer use above), and was bouncing off the walls.
That trip saved my sanity! What started as spending three weeks in France to help Catherine settle in morphed into going to Venice for a photography workshop, spending five weeks in Florence, and then going back to France for another six weeks. It gave me a series of projects to work on—help Catherine and cats move, try a workshop, explore Florence—that didn’t involve the computer and distracted me from my frustration.
More, it opened my eyes to a different set of possibilities. By the time I turned the corner on post-concussive syndrome and could anticipate going back to work, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to how I was working prior to the accident. A brainstorming session with a group of friends and colleagues generated career ideas for me to consider that used my skills and experience, even if they weren’t what I thought I would be doing pre-accident.
I’m not sure if, prior to all these life changes, I would have been able to follow through on my new realization that one way of having the life I envisioned was to start living it, but post-accident and with the increased risk tolerance that came with a brush with death, I found the courage. Part of that vision was to be able to work from anywhere and make long-term stays in other countries. I had a choice of doing that or keeping my apartment, so I closed my apartment and put my stuff in storage. The two years of living as a vagabond allowed me a long stay in the town in which I grew up and where my mom and sisters lived and multiple stays in Italy. That was definitely a jumping-off-the-cliff moment!
After that came the move to Florence. In my corporate America days, I had wanted an assignment overseas for the experience of living and working in another country but my job was headquarters-centric. It didn’t come about quite the way I thought it would, but I’m having the experience of living in another country.
And those were just the big bends in the road!
There have been more challenges and bumps in the road and angst-filled moments than I can remember or count since that flight. But tonight, I acknowledge my gratitude—for the friend who gave me an opportunity, for the people who helped me construct a different way of life when the old one was no more, for the opportunities that came my way. And to the people who were sitting in front of us on that plane five years ago, thank you for not only not being rude about the situation, but being kind and understanding. When we pour the celebratory champagne tonight, I’m raising a glass to you!
Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (pp. 73-74). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.