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Moving On Can Take Courage

fsSlowly I sipped my tea and looked about me — down at the uneven paving on the terrace where Joe had replaced the bricks that summer he and Liza visited, the stone railing in front of which my son-in-law’s parents and I posed with our grandchildren one Mother’s Day (why does seven years ago feel like yesterday?), the little bush under the terrace that grew from a plant my daughter-in-law and I put in the ground the week after my husband, Lee, died. I saw the tiny brick path we’d laid stretching from the drive to the front door. Front door — kind of a joke, since we never used it. Our house was entered only through the kitchen door. It was the kitchen where we gathered, the kitchen where we whispered our family secrets (Dad smoked from various glass pipes), talked of pregnancies and parenthood, drank our morning coffee, and planned our days.

This was to be my last cup of tea in the house where I’d lived for nine years and was leaving because, well, because it was time. The house was too big and isolated for the life I now led. It was time to seek the stimulation that new places and faces always bring.

But none of us leaves the old scenes with ease. We hear of fires and floods that wipe out houses and possessions. We understand the heartbreak of those losses because we know that everything is replaceable — except the mementos of a life that was.

I KNEW HOW I TREASURED MY LIFE THAT was. And so I took my tea before I took my leave, and I reminisced. My eyes focused on all that had been my small place in life: the barn where the grandchildren had all stayed together, ate candy their mothers never would have given them (but, of course, their grandmother did), and put up a sign that read. NO ADULTS ALLOWED. From my chair I could see the stone outcropping they called The Magic Mountain. One of their first rites of passage was to slide, crawl, or climb down The Mountain alone. And dear, brave hearts that they are, all (prodded by cheering cousins) had accomplished this feat by age 3. To the other side of the terrace lay the pool, covered with the tarp now, but in my mind I could still hear summers’-old echoes of children shouting, “Mom, look at me!” Indeed, all the house seemed to be calling out, “Look at me,” as if it could speak of the joys it had shared in, the sorrows it contained.

Even as I considered my move, I knew others had faced the same kind of departure, for life has its seasons and departure is just one of them.

I thought of my friend Marianne who couldn’t bear to leave the too big house where she’d lived for a long time with her late husband, it took eight years for her to move to the condominium she now loves.

I thought of a young woman I know whose husband is being transferred. The family must pull up stakes for a three-year stint in a new place where her children will face that most difficult part of growing up: making new friends.

And I thought of the not-so-young wife whose husband is being promoted. He wants to go where the money is good, and she wants to stay where the friends are good. “Friends don’t put food on the table,” her husband told her. “Mine do” she said. “They’re basic to my life.”

My guess is that she will go, just as we all go when the lights dim, and the show ends.

mfsI thought of my young married friend who believed that a move from city to suburbs would help her marriage; instead both she and her husband are wondering why they ever left the kind of metropolitan energy that seemed to charge them both. Her move is leaving her with regret, but at the root of that regret is an increased understanding of herself, her husband, and her marriage.

Another friend quit a secure job to head a start-up company in a burgeoning industry. “I’m scared,” she admitted, “but I’ve learned to have faith that I can handle a new challenge.”

The shifts in American industry are scaring a lot of families. Downsizing is a fearsome word that threatens everything we hold dear — our homes and plans for the future. For many, it isn’t the house we must change but the way we think about house and home and traditional roles.

My mail is full of letters from women who live in one city while their husbands commute to better opportunities in another. They worry — about the loneliness of a quasi-single life and children who feel fatherless. They wonder whether to make the bold move or stay where they are so the family won’t be further disrupted.

When we move, we so often feel displaced, out of step. I’ve often said that moving is the worst thing that can happen to a healthy person. Even when we’re headed for a bigger house or better job, we feel a sadness in realizing that time moves as surely as we do. Yet we know it’s healthy to embrace change.

One friend moved to a Chicago suburb and was distressed to find she was living next to nosy neighbors. Every time she went to get the mail or water the lawn, her neighbor was at the window watching. One day, the woman came outside as my friend was getting into her car. “Dear,” she said, “I know you’re new here. You look so sad, but I wanted you to know you’re most welcome.” My friend burst into tears, and from those tears sprang a wonderful new friendship.

I thought back through my own life and my reluctance to accept change. I can remember graduating from junior high and sobbing in the backseat of my parents, car as we left the ceremonies because I was convinced life would never be that good again.

EACH TIME I’M FACED WITH THE ROILING seas of change, I remember those fears and try to find, if not courage, at least acceptance. But my sentiments about this move were especially mixed. I knew I needed to leave — but, oh, how I loved this place. Lee and I bought it one spring day at first sight. The real estate agent had called to say there was a house that “looks like you.” A scary introduction, but off we went and the minute we walked in the door, I turned to Lee and said, “I want it.” “It’s hers,” he said to the agent. And that was it. I never once regretted owning this house with its 250-year-old history, aches, and pains.

And now, like the corporate giants, I was downsizing. The need for fewer rooms had led me to a 100-year-old converted barn near the beach. It has a loft where I can write, a dormitory over the garage for the grandchildren, and a kitchen where we can all cook together. Most of all, it’s a place where we can continue to find happiness as well as new friends.

And so I sat, my tea cooling. I heard the crunch of tires on the gravel drive, and looked up. Sheilah, my dear friend and neighbor, got out of her car waving a brown paper bag. “You didn’t think I’d let you go without sharing a last tuna sandwich, did you?”

Wearing a half-sad smile, she came up to the terrace, and we hugged and promised to stay in touch. And I know we will because moving is really a sorting out, a decision about what to take and what to leave, and good friends never really leave us, nor we them. Our hearts stay in tune.

So I said good-bye to the old wideplank floors and sweet hills. But I believe the habits of friendship can be moved along with the furniture, and on my first day in the new house, I went to meet my neighbors.

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