The road

“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 Kathleen’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!

This sums it up!

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.

The courage to change

I’ve been thinking about this post for several days, but couldn’t get it started. This morning, though, the serenity prayer was referenced in a book I am reading (“A Trick of the Light” by Louise Penny, if you’re interested) and thinking of the courage to change got me started.

In the last month, two family members have initiated major changes in their lives. A cousin has decided to divorce her husband after decades of marriage; a sister has decided to suspend her endurance riding quest and rethink her ‘horse life.’

What courage it takes to make these decisions to change! Time and energy and money and emotion have been invested. Even if one is unhappy, it’s so much easier in many ways to maintain the status quo. Making a change means admitting that something isn’t working or isn’t right, and I think for most of us, there’s an element of failure in that admission. My cousin is admitting that she is miserable, that despite her best efforts, she is not able to renew her marriage; my sister is admitting that the passion for horses and riding is, if not gone, at least in abeyance.

Even positive changes can carry with them this element of failure. About three years ago, I joined Weight Watchers; having been a healthy weight most of my life, I had gained 20 pounds and wanted to lose it. It was eight months, though, before I got serious about following the program. Why? It wasn’t that I minded adjusting my eating habits or exercising more. No, it was that to lose weight, to make that change, meant acknowledging that I was overweight and had, to some extent, failed to practice health.

In addition, many of us automatically associate change with loss, especially when the change is forced on us, e.g. an unwanted ending to a relationship, being laid off from a job. Like many people in the USA, I have been through multiple corporate reorganizations and an acquisition. The first time it happened, all I could see was that the department for which I worked no longer existed, that I might not have a job, that things would never be the same. It took a couple more reorganizations, and good advice from a colleague, to see that each time, there was opportunity. In fact, one of those changes led to the chance to work on a project I’d been interested in for years.

But while change can be positive, it is still scary and painful and uncomfortable. When we change, we are letting go—letting go of a part of our lives, even a part of our identities. The change may leave us an emptiness in our lives, where once there was a marriage, a passion, a routine, a sense of security. We are left wondering what comes next, but trying to move forward into that uncertainty.

Changes in latitude

A concatenation of circumstances earlier this year—projects on which I was working with one of my sisters, training for the Katy Trail Ride, and my mother’s health—resulted in my taking advantage of the opportunity to spend several months in the Texas city in which I grew up. It was definitely a change in latitude—not better or worse than what I was used to, just different.

For one, I lived in a standalone house for the first time since I graduated from college. It was odd how insecure I feel without having people connected to me by a hallway. When I tripped a circuit breaker the first weekend I was in the house, it never occurred to me to check outside for the breaker box—it had always been in my apartment. And watering a lawn—what’s that about?!

For another, I haven’t owned a car for most of my adult life and have walked, used public transportation, or once in a while, taken a cab, to wherever I needed to go. Early on in my stay, I took the bus to the transportation center downtown. When I got off, the driver, knowing I was new to the bus system, asked me where I was going. I said I was walking over to the library and he said ‘walking?’ like it was a marathon. It was a less-than-15 minute walk! It made me laugh but it was a reminder of how car-oriented and -dependent people are in a sprawling area.

As much as I enjoyed the winter (it was sooo mild compared to New England), I found the summer a challenge. Here in New England, a heat wave is when temperatures top 90 degrees for three consecutive days. In Texas, family and friends were talking in early July about how mild the summer had been because the temperature had yet to go over 100 degrees! I, on the other hand, was melting and melted even more when we hit the dog days of August.

While sometimes Texas felt as foreign to me as any foreign country, I enjoyed my time there. Because I was there for longer than my usual one-week visit, I was able to look about me more. Some of the changes made me feel as if someone was messing with my childhood, but others were wonderful—the Trinity Trails where we did our bike training, Sundance Square downtown, the developments in the public library system that allowed me to borrow books from numerous branch libraries.

Most of all, I loved being with my sisters and as hard as it was, being able to visit my mother while she still knew my name (there is no timeline for that changing, but the odds are that it will). For four months, my sister Nancy and I met two or three times a week  to work on our blogs, the documentary, and various business ideas we are considering. We took advantage of a Shutterfly offer to collaborate on a book of my pictures and her words. All in all, it was a soul-satisfying and intensely creative time.

I also got to attend two of my nephew’s high school band performances and his Eagle ceremony. Twice, my sister Susan invited me to her place to share in the fun of a weekend babysitting my absolutely adorable great-nephew. One of our best get-togethers as a group was on the 4th of July, when we decided that morning to meet at my house for a cookout; to be in the same area and be able to do that spontaneously was a gift.

Because Texas had not been home to me for many decades, I did not worry about whether one can go home again or not. However, as my sister said in one of her posts earlier this year, if home is where the heart is, you can go home again, no matter how many years have passed.

My favorite page from my and Nancy's Shutterfly book.

My favorite page from my and Nancy’s Shutterfly book.

Lost in Translation

My sister Nancy is my guest blogger today! This recent post by her resonated with me, as I am in the process of reinventing my life (I used to say ‘career,’ but the reinvention scope has widened). I’ve adopted ‘SAG stop to SAG stop’ as my motto for this process; it’s a reminder that my life doesn’t have to be solved all at once, I just have to keep taking steps.

Not Inclined To Resign To Maturity

Nancy_geocaching

My original title for this post was going to be ‘Identity Theft,’ but my identity hasn’t really been stolen, more like temporarily misplaced. Dictionary.com defines identity as:

1) the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones as under varying aspects or conditions; 2) the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another; 3) the condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; 4) the state or fact of being the same as one described; 5) the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time (dictionary.com).

In reading those definitions of identity, I know that my identity isn’t even displaced. I am who I am. However, right now, as I am in a period of transition, with no road map to where I am going, I feel lost. For 30 years, I was a classroom teacher. I have a…

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