I spend very little time with things that trigger pain, upset, anger, or loss. I often measure it against how much better off I am than most of the people in the world and I move on. Friends and family will confirm my discomfort with negative talk, self-pity, and complaints about things that are, in my mind, relatively insignificant in the scheme of what’s really important in life. As I enter the winter season of my life, this has become even more emblematic of my social interactions. And, for the most part, this has worked for me. I am surrounded with mostly happy, up beat, positive friends and I spend most of my waking days feeling grateful and happy.
However, I am slowly learning that while this is who I am and how I wish to be, there are trade-offs to my pattern. There are subtle side-affects that can impact me in not so subtle ways. I have often been told by those close to me that in my eagerness to be happy and positive, I rush through significant life events in a rather controlling and biased process and without the time necessary to actually feel, adequately address, and meaningfully absorb the experience. As a result, there are likely unfinished, incomplete, and festering emotions lying just below my consciousness and doing its thing without my awareness. While I understood this was something that could be accurately applied to others and possibly to me I was convinced my positivity was so strong and helpful that I was least likely to be included in this logic…that is, until now.
Moving is big change. Depending on which source you use for the top 3 to 5 stressors in life, moving comes up more often than not. Tether that to an injury or illness and your body is subject to all of the ill effects caused by stress.
So it was for me as I finally sold my home, moved to one place for a few days, then my daughter’s home for 5 weeks, then to an apartment with only my bed for two weeks before receiving the rest of my furniture. In the interim, a simple tooth extraction turned into severe complications that required two weeks of multiple antibiotics that cured/prevented infection but messed with the rest of my body. Of course, I argued, it’s all just temporary and temporary doesn’t need to affect how I feel.
Well, I have felt like shit for the last few weeks and it ain’t over yet! And while I know, the physical pain and discomfort from my dental surgery is a factor, and the lasting side-affects of the antibiotics have been significant, I believe the loss of my connection to my home and the land and friends I so loved has been the largest contributor.
As usual, when I made up my mind to sell and move, I convinced myself that it was all for the better and being closer to family was more than enough to bring me the joy and happiness I was leaving behind. With nary a thought or look over the shoulder I focused on the tasks at hand, pushed through the cleaning out of much of what I had accumulated over the years at Brookside, and jumped full throttle into the unknown. When friends would ask how I felt about leaving, I smiled and assured them I had enjoyed my home for 21 years and that the hiking trails, the peace and quiet of the front porch, and the unending beauty of the landscape had provided all that I needed during good times and bad and that it was time to move on. And while all of that was true, I didn’t stop to really ask myself how I felt. I didn’t allow myself to spend time or words alone or with friends, acknowledging the depth of the connection I had with this place I called home. I didn’t make the time to mourn the loss that I’m convinced I now feel.
Today I sit looking out of my newly built apartment 4 hours from Brookside. Duke and I are on the top floor of a three-story complex across the street from a self-storage company and around the corner from a 24-hour, 7 day a week, trucking company. Noise abounds and is in harsh contrast to the consistent peace and quiet of my former home. Save for the migrating geese, there is no familiar wildlife to see, and my morning cup of coffee on the porch with Duke curled up next to me on my wicker couch is now on my 100 square foot balcony overlooking commercial buildings, road ways, and apartments. I now live among large numbers of people and their pets and though they remind me of the friends I’ve left behind my new neighbors seem too busy to pause and connect. And while I am basically healthy, have ample resources, have more amenities than I had before, and am thrilled to be close to my children, I need to make the time to recognize that this comes at a cost. I need to spend more time than I am comfortable with to honor my loss.
I look daily for my future home and know that, in time, I will find the right house and property and friends. And, in time, it will fill my needs in ways that Brookside couldn’t. But it will never be Brookside. Yes, Brookside was unique because of its water features, rolling hills, and diverse ecosystems, but it was made all the more special because of the friends who brought their energy and love with each visit. And I know now, that is a loss that can’t be replaced.
For some reason, “Paradise Lost” was the first association I had when reading Hen’s piece about leaving his former home. If you have visited Hen’s Brookside, you’d agree that it has been a perfect match of a person and a place. Hen and Duke were in daily communion the land and its trails. He knew this plat like Aldo Leopold (Sand County Almanac) and Wendell Berry (The Way of Ignorance) knew their territories. Leaving Brookside is a bit like the process of disconnecting we wrote about in the last blog piece.
Mix in dental pain and a distinctly new and changing living regime and it seems like the triple witching hour. So let’s hope it abates after Halloween!
It seems to me that Hen’s discomfort contains a little bit of mourning for the loss of a comfortable symbiosis of hearth and home. Mourning needs to be recognized and honored. Consider it an injury that needs as much healing as the dental issues and reaction to medication. Mourning a loss is a prerequisite for dealing with change. In fact, Hen reported that he might have titled his piece ‘On Loss’ as easily as “On Change’.
We each have a bit of paradise lost in our lives. For George, it may have been the Woodstock Inn. I don’t really miss any of my previous abodes, but after living in one place for almost 50 years, I certainly would dread the project of moving! If there were one place whose loss I would mourn, it would be the loss of our camp in the Adirondacks, which has been so restorative.
In any event, given Hen’s positive approach to life, there’s no doubt that he will reconcile the part of change that is loss and embrace the part of change that is opportunity. As Ecclesiastes says: there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to uproot and a time to plant. Here’s to happy planting!
Lost and Found
I read somewhere that the average person lives in 12 homes in a lifetime. Not counting my dorm at college and a half year in an apartment after I retired, I am on home number 8. Each one of those homes left a distinct impression on me with fond memories. As a kid it provided cherished crevices to hide in and surprise my brother from an attack with a pillow or something less cushioned. The main house I grew up in in NYC had this great radiator in the kitchen for the maid to keep food warm before serving it through the pantry to the dining room table. It was a regular hot water radiator but instead of vertical ribs that heated it had 4 horizontal shelves stacked upon each other to keep trays of food warm. We obviously didn’t have maid service but I used to climb to the top shelf while my dad cooked. My head could touch the tin ceiling and I could be toasty warm in my jammies! But leaving that house wasn’t traumatic cause I was heading off to college the year they sold to developers who tore down block after block of old Victorian homes and built attached two families up and down the streets.
Flash forward, married – into first house as an adult. Lived there two years and then moved into the big city of Kingston, NY. We bought a beautiful old Sears Roebuck kit house with chestnut woodwork. There for 13 years. Started our family there and had great memories. When we moved from there to Woodstock, NY I felt no separation anxiety. However for a period of 4 months we did own two houses which was pretty scary. The anxiety would come later as I aged, and the spirit of adventure ebbed slightly. Another 18 years in Woodstock, NY and with retirement facing me I decided to buy a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont. Was I nuts? Probably, but that is the home I lived in for 13 years and today after having sold it 6 years ago still pulls my heart strings and has a hold over me that at times still aches. The 1830 Farmhouse held all kinds of secrets, especially a mischievous old ghostly presence of a previous owner. The farm had been in his family for 155 years and he just wasn’t ready to leave it. Oddly after only 13 years I wasn’t either! That house came alive like no other I ever owned. Being an innkeeper is a lifestyle not a job. It is hard work and constant but soooo rewarding. We got into a good routine, worked out the division of labor- my partner did the cooking and bookkeeping and I served breakfast and cleaned the rooms. We both shared the schmoozing part willingly and lovingly. The inn was constantly breathing, new guests arriving, others departing, greeting them at the front door after they returned from dinner, telling stories at breakfast, laughing, sharing a bottle of wine by the fireside at night, laughing, meeting people from all over our country and from all over the over the world. Did I mention laughing? And finding how alike people are from wherever they came! The excitement was addictive and palpable. And we were good at all of it!
Like Henry felt in the outdoors, I felt it at the inn among the guests and making them comfortable and relaxed. I liked arranging details for visitors’ stays with us. And we were part of the lodging community which at that time in Woodstock, Vermont was a special group of innkeepers from about 15 inns. That abruptly changed with the inception of Air BnB. Our business began to drop, tensions increased and the relationship came to an end. Running an inn by yourself for a couple seasons became a chore and after a stressful 2 years on the market it sold! Talk about stress! I returned to where my kids lived just like a Henry did. I found a great little house that I love but I miss the inn. I miss the sound of laughter as guests became acquainted. I missed the stories at breakfast, the laughter, the constant breathing of the inn. I even missed talking to my ghostly friend who helped me clean rooms each morning. And then in a year or two Covid struck and just added a layer of silence and loneliness. I tried to fill if with activity- my dog was a savior, but it amplified just how much I missed being a productive person with a purpose. I am still struggling with that. After all I worked for almost 50 years straight and then abruptly it was over! Time to redefine myself. And Henry will do the same in his new home. He has the advantage over me because his glass is always half full and mine…….well at least I still have the glass! Did I mention how much I miss the laughter?