This summer I quietly celebrated four years in this new place and new-ish life. I puttered in the garden, clipped tomato suckers and old raspberry canes, picked green beans, searched anxiously for overgrown zucchini, and intermittently ate blueberries. I mowed the lawn and helped a bit at our son’s new house. I talked with our daughter about changes at her job. I started reading a new novel, picked up a gallon of granola (from our son’s friend with a granola business), bought coffee for an upcoming music festival campout. It was an average day, though no grandkid visit – that would have completed the celebration.
It was a hot week, just like the week I drove the thousand miles north from my longtime home. On that transitional road everything felt like a “last drive” or “last visit” or “last chance” because it was the last time I would do those things in my identity as a Californian. I knew I’d visit those places again, and see people I love, but it would feel different, I would be different.
The drive was a monumental week for me. Each day I mulled over memories and contemplated the future. When I could veer into being present, it was a meditation and recovery, soothing over the sleepless flurry of activity from six months of packing up my life, selling the house, closing up shop on my career, and celebrating with friends. The journey was the doorway between, a segue from past to future, a stretch of much needed time alone, silence and miles, watching the oh so familiar northbound road, nursing memories that each place held. That vacation, that beach, that road I broke down on, that street I grew up on, that friend I lost track of. Those years I drove highway 17 every weekend, that hike, that concert, that life. It was a drive full of color and texture as I examined every mile, pulled over on a whim, and just stood, looking. I shed layers, felt raw and tender. I considered which parts of myself to leave behind and which to embrace. I shook off the old me and drove toward an unknown me, an unknown future.
I didn’t have many expectations. It was almost a blank slate, and I was nervous and exhilarated at the inspiring unknown that we chase and fear at the same time. I wanted to be closer to my kids, share their lives, be there for them if they needed me. I wanted to be the Nana I always wanted and needed in my own life, and to be with the grandchild I missed desperately every time I had to leave her. I wanted to be there for the birth of my second grandkid but had little idea what it would mean to have yet another loving being in my life. I was ready to get back into family mode and far far away from working for a living. I wanted to create a new nest, and feather it as a 60 year old, not a 30 year old. All that has surely been met, satisfied a million times over.
The rest was a mystery. With the great good fortune and privilege of no commitments, no schedule, few consequences to my actions, we had what we needed to live a good simple life. Though I had some thoughts about what I wanted for my day to day life, I needed the upcoming wide open mental and physical space to actually explore the possibilities. What activities and interests would I discover, rediscover, and explore, how would I change and grow?
After four years, reinventing my life is still a work in progress. I try things, poke around to satisfy my curiosity, embrace new interests as they present themselves, and reject what isn’t working. Building community, finding friends – four years has somehow not been enough for me, an introvert, to establish strong connections or commitments. It bothers me that I’m still floundering, still experimenting, still unsure. With old connections remaining strong (yes I worried about that!), and with family, I’m not lonely. Just wondering. What will be next? I still have to work at staying present.
I’m no longer feeling quite Californian, and almost but not quite an Oregonian. The first time we left town, after only a month in the new house, we went to a music festival in Washington. We kept meeting people who asked, “So, where are you from?” When we answered “Portland,” we’d either burst out laughing or look at each with wide eyes. Really? It felt like a lie, we were posers, fakes, and we’d jump in quickly to explain how we weren’t really from Portland. But these days I say I’m from Portland and make no apologies. It still makes me laugh a little, but it feels right.
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