Worth the Wilderness


I’ve lived in Vermont a little more than a decade now. It has become home. It has been a place of healing and growth, but it has also been a time of loss.

Vermont is known for its country stores, and when I moved here there were three within ten minutes of my house. Now there are none. One, the closest, burned down a few years ago. The other two have had multiple owners struggle through trying to keep them open only to ultimately have them fail.

My favorite diner has been through six owners since I started having breakfast there and writing each morning. Each started with charm and hopes and each failed. The current owners may break the streak. They have already lasted longer than the other five and their food is by far better than the past owners. They are good, interesting people. But he is already talking about retiring to Tennesee in a few years. Another loss to anticipate.

I can’t tell you the businesses that have come and gone in my decade in Vermont. I loved some of them. Patronized some of them. And mourned their loss. As I drive around, I see the empty buildings and remember.

When I moved up here, I was a couple years out from a divorce. I had lost not just a twenty-five-year marriage, but effectively my two kids. I fell into dark depression that robbed and at time still robs me of joy.

Things work out though. Before long my kids chose to move up here with me while still in school. The joy in that is beyond words. Of course, they did what kids do. They went to college and began lives. In both of their cases, far away. I rejoice in their journey, but I would be a liar if I did not say I miss them.

I lost my parents while I was up here. My mother suddenly. My father over time. That led to the breaking up of the family home in Virginia. I have a few pieces of furniture now that belonged to parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. They are beautiful pieces, some of them refinished by my father in his prime. When I see them, every day, I am conscious of the memories they bring, and conscious of the sadness at their loss.

I preach at a small church in Rupert Vt. I spend a day or two a week doing chaplain work at a hospice in Rutland. I love both jobs, but death and loss and doing funerals of people I care for are a constant in my life.

But it has not been all loss, this past decade.

I met a wonderful woman a few years ago, fell in love, stayed in love and married a little more than two years ago. It is a different kind of love than I have ever experienced, a grown-up and passionate love. It’s wonderful.

I have healed here. When I moved up here, I had no idea how much healing I had to do, But the wounds were there and this place, a new place, made no demands on me. No one had expectations of me. I could just be. Heal. Take all the time I needed.

I began to paint here. From a class to fill time, it has become more. Another way of expression, and to my never-ending surprise, a small revenue stream. I have a large studio to work in, full of light and space and half-finished projects and paintings.

My kids come back. They visit. They text and call and facetime. I gained a new daughter in my marriage. We all stay in touch. I am blessed. Not everyone has that with their kids when the kids move away. So that loss has transformed into a different kind of joy.

I began new work here. Moving my work from a very corporate way of working to a very one on one way of working. From a profit-first mode to a people-first mode. It has been good for my soul, and my bills get paid. I am happy.

And that’s the thing. I am happy. Not every moment. But in general.

Happiness was rare in my life for a lot of years. I had success. I had a lot of things tearing at my soul. I had lost the language of happiness. Loss can do that. But restoration can bring it back. It takes time, and often wandering in a dark wilderness where you are sure it will never come back.

But it does. When we allow it. Today my joys are different. Simpler. Having coffee with my wife, simply talking through the day, is a joy. Petting the cat on my lap (I have two, both lap cats) is a joy. Having the time to create, time to serve people one on one, time to sit next to my love, thigh to thigh, reading, is a joy.

Was it worth the long wilderness time? Yes.

Was it worth the loss? That is a more complex answer. But here is my take. Loss is going to happen. It’s part of the life and world we live in. We can succumb to it, or we can continue living, reaching out, getting the help, doing the work and taking the time to heal.

If we do, we heal. Never unchanged. The loss is always there, but it can be overcome by joy. If there is one lesson I have learned it is that one. Joy is there. We have to be open to it.

On my desk, there is a brass bookmark that I have affixed to the desk itself, where I can see it every time I sit down. “Never, Never, Never Give Up.” Winston Churchill. My mantra. Worth remembering,

Be well. Travel wisely,


PS: The picture was taken at a now-closed country store in nearby Whitehall, NY.

One comment

  1. One of my most favorite quotes is from Anne Frank, “I don’t think of all the misery but of all the beauty that still remains.”
    Your post made me think of that quote.
    So glad life in Vermont has worked out for you and it’s been worth it being there! 🙂

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