Thoughts: Inner Geography

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I’ve gotten some e-mails and messages from my friends in Virginia, the gist of which has been “Why in the world would you want to live up there with all that snow?”  My kids, both of whom spent the majority of their life down south as well, have both informed me that they are done with “your winters.”

I think it’s kind of pretty.

We got about a foot, give or take this weekend. It’s still snowing lightly. This is the kind of snow that would have flattened my two home towns in Virginia (Richmond and Roanoke) for a few days. This morning though, I got up, brushed the snow off my trusty Trooper and made my way to Scotties, my diner of choice these days. All the regulars were there. The snow was not even the major topic of conversation.

I didn’t’ move up here for the snow. In fact, the geography didn’t matter. I was in a place a couple of years after my divorce and had built a long distance relationship that I thought might have legs. But that eleven hours was a killer.

At the time, I had kind of a portable job, one I could pretty much take anywhere as long as I did not mind traveling. My kids didn’t like me very much. Because of the divorce, I had let go of my church positions. (Most churches don’t really know what to do with divorced people. Sigh.)

So I moved north.

It was kind of a big deal. I had lived my whole life, 54 years of it, in Virginia. My roots were there, for generations. I had worked in a job that had me travel all over the state and I knew the towns and burgs like the back of my hand. All of my family was there.

And the school systems had done their part. In Virginia, when I was growing up we took something called “The History of Virginia.”. It may have been called history, but looking back, I realized it was more than that, it was out and out propaganda about the greatness of Virginia. We were taught it all began there. It wasn’t our fault that the lost colony disappeared – we were the first colony to make it. And of course, all the best presidents came from there. We practically wrote every one of the founding father’s documents from the Declaration of Independence to the Bill of Rights and everything in between. We had the best geography (a little of everything), four perfect seasons, a well run government and we were always polite.

Few of us came out of that education without being very Rah-rah about Virginia. Heck, almost 8 years up here and I’ll still tell you how wonderful it is.

But, I am here, not there.

Like I said, I came here to see if the relationship had the legs I thought it might.

Along the way, I learned some things about myself. I learned that something I had often said about myself – that I could live most anywhere and be happy, was actually true.  I rediscovered the power of quietness. I reclaimed my spiritualness. I slowly rediscovered my creativity and have expanded it. Even though it was not the reason for moving, I discovered that being eleven hours away from my ex-wife was peace-making, and healthy (probably for both of us.).

None of these things were new to me. But they had gotten lost in the turmoil of my marriage ending and the aftermath. My inner geography had changed, and coming here, they came back to me.

I didn’t change. I came back to myself in a long slow journey back.

It is amazing to me how a sudden moment can tear our lives asunder. “I want a divorce.”  “You have cancer.” “You’re fired.”.  A few short words tear down years of coasting along and wrecks that inner geography that had become so familiar. Suddenly, nothing is the same.

The truth is, it is never as sudden as we think. Something in that inner geography has been eroding the landscape for some time, until it all crashes in. But once it does crash, the geography is hard to recognize, much less navigate. Whether we stay in the same physical place or not, everything you thought you knew has changed, and you rarely know what to do with it. I had built my life around being a husband and a day to day dad. And suddenly I wasn’t that. I had built a life making “X” number of dollars, and suddenly I was splitting that number into two. I had owned the big house on the hill, and I was now living in a tiny little apartment under the stairs of an old building. I had been a church leader for 30 years, now I was the hurting soul in the back row, often in tears.

And since in the years leading to the collapse, I had let other parts of my life wither – my spirituality (as opposed to religion), my creativity, many of my relationships, my sense of self. (can you say co-dependent?)  I was at loose ends. There was almost nothing of ME left.

I spent a few years in therapy trying to understand my new landscape. Or maybe the right term is rebuilding the landscape.

Looking back, I think physically moving helped. I wasn’t thinking of that at the time. But coming to a place where I knew almost no one, where I had no image or reputation, where people had no sense of who or what I was supposed to be allowed me to regroup and regrow without anyone’s expectations except my own. I was not part of the fabric of any group or circle of friends up here, so I could just be. I could, in effect, allow my own inner landscape come back at its own pace.

And it did. Piece after tiny piece, I rebuilt. It was slow. It took years. But not being in a place of other’s expectations, I was able to make the journey at my own speed, in my own time. I could test the growth while not being under the spyglass of people who would, not out of spite but out of care, be measuring me according to their own scales.

That landscape has been fluid. Sometimes I feel the last eight years have been a period of constant change. But the best of me has come back. My kids came back, eventually deciding on their own that  I was not what they had been told, but something entirely different, someone safe and loving and constant. I was a Dad again. I regained my creativity and pushed it into new realms. I recreated my work life. I have reclaimed my spirituality and there are muscles to my faith that would not have been there had I not been so broken and had to do spiritual rehab.

The relationship that brought me here did not last. It did not have the legs I thought it might. But I have no desire to move back to Virginia. People I love are still there. A lot of them. But I have settled here. I like my peace. I like the inner landscape I have found while here.

And I don’t mind the snow.

I think that has been the biggest lesson. That the outer geography doesn’t matter that much. At this point, I really do think I could live anywhere and be happy. As long as I had the time and peace to continue growing into what I will eventually become. (Yeah, I am one of those “the journey is never done.” people.).

It’s not the outer geography that matters. It’s the inner geography.

I have come to a peace with the fact that my inner geography will always be changing. Hopefully without the earthquakes of 12 years or so ago, but changing none the less. My son is leaving for college. My daughter has recently come back to Vermont. I have a woman in my life that has transformed it. My work continues to evolve and change.  But these are evolutions, not an earthquake. They are seasons and I expect them to change.

There is a school of thought that sometimes we need to have calamity to appreciate the good in our lives, that the good becomes more valuable when we lose it.

I am not sure that is true. But I do believe this. If we do hit that place where it all comes apart, and the inner geography becomes a wasteland, and we rebuild it brick by brick, more purposefully and more mindfully and prayerfully than we did the first time around, that inner geography is a stronger thing. It is more resilient.

And you can take it with you.

At this point, where I live doesn’t matter so much. I know I can adjust and find happiness and relationships that matter anywhere I go. That is a powerful thing, to know this. Not just to think it or believe it, but to know.

So let it snow. I love the stuff, much to my surprise. But I’d love my life in the tropics, or the flat land of the midwest, in the rugged edges of Cape Cod, or Venice, or even where you are.

Because I bring my geography with me.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

One thought on “Thoughts: Inner Geography

  1. Like a phoenix rising out of the snowy hills of Vermont 🙂 Good for you!!!
    And I agree, the snow is beautiful – I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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