It’s nearly Labor Day and the dragonflies are back, zipping over the deck against a bright blue sky. Somewhere south in the Gulf of Mexico is a storm that might (1) give us some rain and wind, (2) miss us altogether, or (3) come ashore as a full-on hurricane that would send us running for the hills.
This kind of uncertainty isn’t fun, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for the life my wife and I have been leading for months now. Fifteen years after moving from Washington, DC to Atlanta, we decided to move again: to sell our house in the Atlanta burbs, buy a smaller one in Birmingham, Alabama, my wife’s hometown, and divide our time between there and the Florida panhandle where we are now.
Sounds like a snap, right? Seniors embracing change like youngsters, living life to the fullest, being mobile and flexible, and all those other well-known ‘Murican buzzwords (sorry, I mean “values”).
Let me be very clear: I’m not complaining. I know we’re lucky we can manage this financially, and a lot of people would love to have our problems. But this much change takes effort, will, creative thinking, optimism, and plenty of energy, both physical and emotional. And we’re 15 years older than last time. It’s tough.
We started by clearing out our house and giving away many things we’d no longer need. Then we staged the house for sale, making it look like a model home where no one actually lived. I missed my big, comfy recliner in the den, which we turned into a Potemkin dining room. Then we moved out – which, due to mistakes and neglect by the people we hired to assist us, turned into a horrible last-minute scramble. We felt like we were being evicted from our longtime, much-loved home.
Next came the trying process of searching in a different city for a house that retains the good qualities of the old one – location, location, location, trees in the yard, and a living room suited for music. We found a place but are far from settled.
The new home and new city are good things. They’re things we wanted. Why does it all feel so hard, like perpetual PTSD?
A phrase keeps running through my mind, from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” his elegy for Lincoln: “The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d, And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d, And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.”
I don’t know how much weight we’ve lifted, how many miles we’ve driven, or how many hotels we’ve slept in, usually badly. It’s not over. I still sometimes think I just can’t do this for one more day. It’s still tough.
What’s kept us going and will get us through to the end is each other. If you have any sense, you don’t go swimming in the ocean alone or head into the desert without loads of water, so you don’t attempt something physically and psychically earthshaking without a strong partner.
For 16 years and counting, we’ve been together until death do us part. Backaches, U-Haul trucks, hot and cold running contractors, and Matterhorns of boxes will not us part. Our possessions are scattered across three states, and our emotions at any given time are less predictable than that storm, but our hearts are still as one.
There’ll be a house with music and friends again. It’s not even officially ours yet but it already has love.