Are we there yet?
Updated: Dec 2, 2019
There's a quote that's been following me around since our road trip ended six months ago:
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot
It's like a song you've never heard before and suddenly is on every time you turn on the radio, and next it's playing on your favorite TV show, and then you realize it's playing over the loudspeakers of the store or restaurant you are in. This quote is my song and has been appearing in my life constantly.
Perhaps I've noticed the quote now because there's something poignant that rings true for me about being at "the end of all our exploring"' - something I am pondering as we return to normal life.
On one hand it's easy to romanticize the other life: while on the road I was eager for normalcy and rootedness; now in the midst of normal, I look towards the adventures of the road and conveniently forget the hard stuff.
Looking at it more thoughtfully, I also realize that I resist an end to exploration. Early on I wrote a blog post about productivity - musing on the strangeness of an empty calendar and the shift in identity from busy-perfectionist-overachiever-employee to she-who-is-on-sabbatical and has an open road ahead.
Now I chuckle at my resistance to letting go of that stressed, overworked part of myself.
It took stepping out of the madness of the modern working world to fully understand - to my core - that work is not working for most of us. Perhaps it was making such a radical shift in my relationship to work that has attracted the stories of the weary workers of the world, but suffice it to say: work is broken, the planet is burning, and I do believe working less is a big part of healing ourselves and our world. (See: "The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less" and other "degrowth movement" pieces.)
So that's half of what this quote has unearthed in me. The other half is more complicated.
"...and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
A month ago we were eating cake to celebrate the year since we sold the house. And then August 17, 2019 arrived - one year since we left Minneapolis - and I was in no mood for cake.
I was in Chicago for a training, in a room full of brilliant and complicated humans from around the Midwest, and my brain was suddenly spinning with the amount of change I'd experienced in only twelve months.
We didn't just sell the house, or just change our careers, or just leave a community built over many years, or just embark on a huge adventure traveling coast to coast and across an ocean; nor did we simply return to one of our hometowns for an undetermined amount of time and begin to create a new home and life, finding jobs in different fields and attempting to build adult friendships: we did all these things. We did that whole run-on-sentence of things! And like a lot of change, it felt like the shortest and longest twelve months of my life.
Arriving at August 17, 2019 - a year from the day this started - I found this quote coming into my consciousness again as I asked myself what do I know now? Am I still in the questions or have I found some answers?
It's funny how a year later the reasons for leaving can soften into the enormous yet simple desire to change how I spend my days and where I spend my days. All the petty annoyances wash away into this simple truth. And also, in that space, a grappling with who I spend my days with.
A stubborn resistance emerges: I don't want to lose everything! Yet, I worry it’s selfish to seek continuity with a community I choose to leave. When my dear friend applauded me for a year of living my questions, for courage, and honesty, and transformation, she also cried and expressed sadness – her grief – over me moving away. It was the first time I truly allowed myself to explore how my change impacted others - positively and negatively.
This intensified my doubt about leaving the Twin Cities and my community. Making space for the sadness of friends opened me up to realize doubt will always exist and doubt isn't the full story.
Beyond doubt I found my own grief about what I loved about the last place I called home and the life I built there, as well as grief about the dreams that didn't come to fruition in that place. Heartache about my wonderfully abundant life alongside my deep longing for change.
In embracing my ability to navigate every dimension of this change, I also discover confidence in what I want to build. I want a smaller, quieter life in some ways, and also a vibrant, ever-evolving life living in community. Most importantly a life where I can do more with less, through sharing resources, simplifying, and growing resiliency. Over the next few years, we are both exploring how to move towards these bigger changes.
My memories from August 17, 2018 are distilled down to a few moments: powerful tears transforming into uproarious laughter, my hands shaking as I passed the house keys to the new owner at the end of closing, a made-by-Joel mix CD the only fanfare as we drove away, a quiet moment with fireflies in a cornfield and pig pasture in Southern MN as Joel reached out to hold my hand. That first day we only made it four hours away from the life we left, yet already felt a distinct “then” and “now.”
On August 17, 2019 I was in a room with 19 "strangers" after a year staying and connecting with "strangers" all over the country and learning about who I was and what I wanted. As the training came to an end I became overcome with emotions reflecting about all the changes in my life that had brought me to this room, this moment of investing in myself and the "how I spend my days" part of my transformation. It took so much to be here and here I was.
I sat quietly and gave thanks for my doubt, my grief, my letting go, my holding on, my life; for the questions we have been living - to arrive where we started - and my clarity about where we are heading - and know the place for the first time.