There is snow on the mountains at the Tennessee border today, still on the ground into the afternoon. I spent the afternoon in a quiet house, reading while the dogs napped and the wind blew leaves onto the porch outside.
Taking a few hours to do something simple, just for pleasure, is a rare gift these days–and, I must admit, it took a good hour for me just to give in to its magic. My mind kept returning to the ever-present mental to-do list, reassuring myself that every item on it could wait until later. I’d read a few pages, then take a moment to consciously relax my shoulders, easing tension out of my neck and jaw.
When you’re too wound up about your life to enjoy time in a rocking chair, you know something’s gotta change.
That change has begun–and, like most things (and contrary to our wishes), it ain’t a quick process. It started with… well, I’m not entirely sure where or when it started, because who can identify the first grains that start the landslide? Following our instincts and leaving a city that (despite dearly beloved friends and a heart-stopping landscape) didn’t quite fit was part of the perceptible beginning, when solid ground started to move. But there were many steps that brought us to here, and it would be impossible (and, ultimately, irrelevant) to trace each of them.
We’re here, and that slide is only gaining momentum.
My mother came to visit this weekend, and the time was more celebratory than usual. It’s hard, when the story you’re telling involves so much of someone else’s, to know how much is okay to say. But some stories are worth sharing, because they inspire the rest of us to reach for the extraordinary.
Simply put, my mother bought her freedom. It’s a thing that most people die without accomplishing–and, I dare say, a thing many probably fear. The price was decades in the paying, and she’s still learning to give herself credit for what she’s done (I’m doing what I can to help on that front!). It bears trumpeting from rooftops: she sold her house, quit her job, and is on her way to living on her own terms, in the way she wants to live.
The chief measures of success these days seem to be excessive material wealth, personal notoriety, and time for leisure and indolence. By these measures, my mother is an abject failure.
I hope, one day soon, to fail just as spectacularly.
Her success means she has ahead of her much labor and sweat, but in such sweet toil. While she was here, we talked a lot about where she’ll embark on this new life (I’m rooting for somewhere just up the road from me, for purely selfish reasons). We talked about raising and preserving food; about energy independence, old houses, how cooperation and independence intersect. About the simple pleasure of good soil and clean sweat.
We talked about reclaiming the definition of work to mean something like: that labor which produces only those things we require to sustain and make secure and nurture. We talked about variety and diversification, and how nature abhors an assembly line. How a couple acres can produce more than most of us need, and the peace that comes with being beholden to no one for paycheck or shelter or food or affirmation.
Lofty stuff. But suddenly feeling quite within reach.
So, while the Man Friend and I were already headed in this direction on our own, bearing witness to such an accomplishment still begs the question:
What are you putting off?
Is it because of your job, and the paycheck or respect or access it brings? Is it your too-big house, your too-expensive car, your cool tee shirts? Do you secretly fear being truly independent, the way some of us fear heights or public speaking, for the vulnerabilities they uncover? Remember the Dalai Lama. Remember what you wanted to be, as a kid or as a new graduate, or as yourself now, in your most unguarded moments. Remember my mom, and anyone you may know who is like her, learning to live by their own definitions, setting their own priorities.
Our first task in putting back on that which we have put off is to sort the stuff that matters from the stuff that doesn’t–a thing that probably sounds fairly straightforward, until you start thinking about it. I’m still learning myself, but I’ll give you one bit of advice: if the sorting doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you’re probably not doing it right. Delve deeper–the digging is worth it.
We’re digging over here, sorting and culling and trimming fat. It’s uncovered old, done patterns, and revealed the fallacy of taking anything for granted. It hurts sometimes, but in that good way, like when strong hands knead those knots out of my shoulders, or when my legs ache from carrying my weight up and over mountains. Good hurt. The hurt of change, of growth.
The means are still in the works, but the end could be described simply as this: a life that doesn’t put knots in my shoulders; a me who can rock in a rocking chair, untroubled, for a few short hours one cold, sunny, still afternoon.