I helped my daughter move a couple of weeks ago. My son moves over the next couple of days. In a small coincidence, my son’s move is the same day I moved here to Vermont, nine years ago.
Saturday, the woman I love and I were driving to North Adams for an artist’s date at Mass MoCA, as we drove back and got closer to home, she noted that I had really acclimated to Vermont.
There was a time I loved moving. When I was married the first time, we moved from my two-room log cabin, to a duplex, to a small modernized Salt Box home, to what was my dream home – a huge rambling farmhouse in Botetourt County. We lived there for a little over a decade.
I liked that settled feeling. That sense of place. You develop a familiarity that is comfortable. You know places. You know people and they know you. You find a place for the furniture that works and you settle into it. You know the sounds of the house and whatever is outside.
LIkeing that comes naturally I guess. My parents lived in the same house from the time I was ten until they died just a few years ago. Both sets of grandparents lived in their homes from the time I was born, to their deaths. The same thing was true of a vast array of great aunts and uncles.
That was, I felt, the natural order of things. You grew up, you found your place and settled into it. It was comfortable. There was joy in it.
And so of course, it was temporary.
My divorce made keeping the dream house impossible and impractical. I moved through a couple of apartments, trying to get settled. They were nice enough apartments. Joy happened in both of them. There was also brokenness and healing in each of them. But while the apartments were changing, I still lived in the same area. I knew where everything was. I knew how things worked. The geography was familiar. The culture was familiar. The people were familiar. My place in the world was familiar.
That changed when I moved up here to Vermont. I had no place. I didn’t know the geography. I hardly knew a soul. The culture was different. I didn’t know where to get the car fixed, where to get good pizza (an essential in my life!), where to find a plumber or an electrician. I had no idea where all the little side roads ran.
Stay in a place a while, all those things come to you. There’s a period of awkwardness and now and then a frustration. (after all, when you need a plumber, you generally need a plumber NOW.). But it works out.
I found, to my surprise, that I kind of liked being in a totally new place. There was a smidgen of adventure in it. When everything is new, your brain is a little livelier, a little more alert. And there is value in that. The change stimulates your creativity.
When you move to a new place, you get to shed parts of you that were less a part of you than expectations of other people. Roles you outgrew can be shed like snakeskin. No one expects anything. You’re a new creature as far as they are concerned. You have nothing to live up to. Life becomes, if you let it, simpler. You can settle into yourself in a way that is harder when you stay put.
Is that good or bad? I don’t think there is a universal answer. For me, it turned out to be good. I was still a broken soul when I came up here. Much of me was healed, but I was still in a place of reclaiming the best of me and shedding the worst. I was still figuring a lot of myself out – an odd thing for a man of 54, but that’s what brokenness does, leaves you having to carve out what is real from what was built to other’s expectations. Or at least that is what I was left doing.
That was part of the adventure, just as following all the side roads and figuring out where they went, discovering the museums and diners and shops.
And finding new things. For instance, I grew up and lived in Virginia for 54 years. We had Virginia Beach, which I was not a huge fan of. But up here I discovered Cape Cod in the offseason. If there is such a thing as a soul-space, Cape Cod has become mine. I have come to love New York City and Boston, cities that were vague in my mind, as foreign as Baku or Singapore to me. I get lost there often, but never without finding something marvelously different.
I’ve stumbled a lot. The relationship that brought me here ended, and I would not have made the move unless I had thought the relationship had legs. It took me a long time to find my spiritual roots again. I fumbled my way back to writing after a long time of not writing. I found a couple of really bad plumbers.
I’ve had adventures here. Both of my children, after years of semi-estrangement, ended up moving up to live with me their final years of high school, and I have had them coming and going to and from college. We’ve become close again, and trust me, that was an adventure. I have taken up painting. After years of stumbling in a spiritual wilderness, I have ended up the pastor of a couple of tiny little churches. I’ve gotten lost on side roads more often than I can count.
I’ve discovered a whole new culture up here. My father often disparaged “Yankees”, being part of a southern culture that somehow never stopped fighting the civil war. While he loved the one or two relatives we had in the Nawth, for the most part, he had no use for nawtherners. I was not a fan of his prejudices (and they were many), but whether you want them to or not, those images get planted in your head.
I find I love people up here. Both here in my very rural corner of Vermont, and in the cities I get to visit and work in. They are different and have different ways of seeing and living their lives, but their hearts are familiar.
I got married a year ago. For a time it was uncertain where my love and I would live, but in the end, she chose to live here, once she could find work. That finding the right job thing has not happened yet so each week we migrate between her apartment in Massachusetts and my house in Vermont.
But we are slowly moving towards the day she lives here full time. I’ve converted a bedroom into a walk-in closet. I converted my studio unto her office space and ripped out a kitchen (My house was once a duplex) and refashioned it into a new studio. Her things have slowly found places in the house. We carved a little sitting area in our bedroom out of my closet. We’ve bought new furniture. Slowly, without moving, the house is becoming not my house, but ours.
I still crave stability. I would love to live in the same house for a lifetime like my parents and grandparents did. When each of them died, there were crowds at the funeral because they had been in the same place all their lives and the connections were deep and widespread. That will never happen with me.
But I’ve also learned something. Stability comes in the people you love, not the places. My stability lies in my relationship with the woman I love, my wonderful new bride of almost a year. My stability lies in my daughter’s and my son’s love, even as they spread themselves across the country. I was forced by circumstances to learn that lesson, but it was worth the circumstances to learn the lesson. I never would have chosen the circumstances. But the lesson has become one of the best things I know.
I’ve also learned this about myself. I don’t mind being lost. Being lost is part of the way we learn our way. Every one of the little side roads and back ways I now know, was an adventure. There’s an excitement of stumbling my way into knowledge.
You see, after the life I’ve led, every mistake and wrong turn I have made, eventually led to something wonderful. It generally wasn’t the wonderful thing I imagined, but it was wonderful none the less.
I’m going to be OK. No matter what. And what is that knowledge worth?
Being lost a time or two.
PS – Why this picture? Because when I stumbled on it at Mass MoCA, I had no idea what in the world I was looking at. I still don’t. But I kinda liked it.