Six-and-a-half-months ago my wife and I pulled the trigger on a couple of dreams that had been slow cooking for about four years. If life is a highway, sometimes it’s an iced-over mountain pass that you find yourself descending; slowing down seems at least improbable, and the only possible choice seems to be to stay off of the brakes and hope for bends instead of winds. We were very much ‘there’ in life; between new businesses, new kids, and new towns – we seem to like to drive over passes in the winter…
But every once in while, you come around a corner and find a nice dry piece of pavement, and if your lucky, a place to park and contemplate the next leg of the journey. That’s what the Covid shut down in April did for us. All of the sudden the blips of conversation had before rushing out the door to work, or in between putting the kids to bed and passing out because another 4 AM shift was impending, actually became real back and forth dialog. We recognized that these deep-seated longings that each of us had were being buried by busyness, and that if we didn’t start acting on them, well, time might very well have scrubbed those desires away for either or both of us.
This new adventure was like nothing that we had ever pursued- there was no promise of security in any matter – we were moving away from family, away from a steady income; away from any familiarity in daily life – grocery stores, church, commutes; even cultural norms. The only things that we were bringing with us were our hopes, dreams, and our little family.
We moved into a very nice, quiet neighborhood (that apparently was the subdivision to live in during the 90’s…). The house that we rent is a 1500 sq. ft. one level brick ranch style house with a mid mod inspired A-frame front room, complete with floor to ceiling windows. The orange broken tile entry under an orbed chandelier really completes it for me; the retro faux wood paneling in the garage and the…floral(?) wallpaper covering every wall in the kitchen just push the esthetic beyond all my expectations. We have a huge fenced back yard where our kids have spent countless hours playing in a covered sand area, peeling cicada “exuvia” (shed skin – sounds gross; probably is to most, but we think it’s rad) off of trees, play ‘wizards’, or playing in a kiddie pool filled with lukewarm water – because that’s how it comes out of the spigot here year-round. In my wildest dreams I never expected to be able to “mow” each week through the third quarter of the year. Though my wife – probably more appropriately – calls it “vacuuming the lawn” at this point in the season. Regardless of what the mower’s effectually doing to the ground, every Wednesday with few exceptions I take the kids out with me and spend a couple of hours (usually broken up with lunch in between) pushing the machine around while I listen to Tim and Jon from the BibleProject dissect words or ideas found in scripture on their podcast and the chillin’ run wild.
While we run our circuit of playing, eating, cleaning, exploring, and working at home; Darian has been running in ultra-hyper study mode – taking extra credits above the curriculum track for the nursing program that she is in. I’m often bewildered by how much she takes in, while somehow also having the conscience to help other students by forming study groups, sharing study tactics or notes, or (probably most boggling to me) by giving of her precious time to listen, encourage, or empathically cry with fellow students. Her level of drive in her academics is both inspiring and exhausting.
The first and second half of the year has certainly been a swap for us (Darian and myself), one that we were both (and I still believe are) excited about – she has been able to relentlessly feed her desire to learn more about all things health and human body, and commune with the adults regularly for the first time in five or so years. I have been able to idle down in thoughts and pursuits of business ideas that once seemed to pervade all the tissue inside my skull. I’ll readily admit that my personal transition hasn’t been easy (refer back to the iced road analogy); I spent a lot of time trying to find something that would make me feel valuable – turns out I still needed a dollar sign attached to what I did with my time; that we were getting along fine without that income had no apparent bearing. I can’t say that I am over this struggle, but the sacrifice of living on less, working weekends and evenings in order to keep our kids out of daycare – is something I’m utterly confident is worth the lack of stuff.
Beyond the struggle of finding value in the monetary, the struggle to not seek distractions is real. I’m not much of a reader. I like to read, but my attention span – not so much. I don’t know why writing is so much different; I could do this all day and night, but there’s something about inactivity, silence; about receiving info without actively doing something that is very difficult. I realized this shortly after moving here. I was aware that I was going to struggle with purpose and idle time; to a degree I was aware of how tightly I had wound myself with schedule and doing, and so I took the advice of many people (you know who you are – thank you) and started listening to The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. If you haven’t, in the timeless, infamous words of Shia – “just do it!”. I started implementing quiet into my mornings. I would just sit, listen, feel. It didn’t last long, my oldest likes to get up at 6 AM and having struggled for the last couple of years with insomnia, voluntarily waking up at 4:30 or 5 isn’t doing it for me right now. But, I will say that this two-or-so-month practice was effectually like hitting a reset button on my mind and, to a degree, my body. The dread of not doing started to dissipate. I started walking slower; smelling things and actually having what may be considered an emotional response to it. Bird sounds, colors; life as experienced by humans of yore started seeping in. Feeling has been a foreign…experience for me in many ways and at many times in life. I don’t know where the blame lies – western intellectualism, nature, nurture, technology – I’m sure it’s a cocktail all of the above and more, but what I am finding is that it really does require shifting of patterns, rhythms, habits – one doesn’t merely trip and fall into contentment, into psychological well-being; into happiness. Alternatively, one doesn’t bull rush or “grind” daily into the good life – what’s much harder in our culture and in our time, is to slow down. When I started feeling things once again like loneliness, empathy, heartache, imagination; they were so foreign and uncomfortable that it felt like something was wrong – feelings were foreign invaders. But by giving time to, as they say “sit with my feelings”, it’s as if the color of my humanity is resurfacing. The endless amounts of distractions would have us believe that the pale and limited access to a couple of emotions (anger and depression…just for example…) is normal, that these are the things that most people at most times in history have felt most of the time. That is simply not true. Reflecting on times in our own lives when “things were different” can help dispel the myth of “this is just how: I am/life is/things are”. Hope, real hope requires looking through the windshield and the rearview mirror.
About that one nagging, surprising feeling: loneliness. Perhaps this feeling has surfaced more often for more of us this year. It’s been nagging at me to simply acknowledge it’s existence, so here I am, acknowledging. There, are you happy, Mr. Lonely Feeling?
I think that given our extra-lonely circumstances of moving across the country to a city and state where we knew no one, at a less than opportune time for mingling and meeting new people, we have actually persevered quite well. In my year-end reflecting – which by no means happens every year, nor does it take form of perfectly calligraphed font on handmade, fibrous, medium toothed paper that has been stitched and woven into a chunk of hand harvested, tanned, and intricately stamped ostrich leather (just in case you had that in mind) – I recalled that with all of our visitors (of which we have been so honored and blessed to have a fair share of [thanks Dora, Josh and Sarah, Skye and Emma, and Gigi!]), the thing that we have been most excited to share with them is our rhythms. Our rhythms of eating, resting, walking, basking, singing, creating, reading, praying – they make up the current we floated and have found sustains through the turbulent waters. As we look forward to 2021, for us, our family anticipates another busy semester of late nights and early mornings, tight schedules and probably tight budgets; I take solace that these simple, but powerful rhythms will continue to carry us – together – to the open sea.