In reflecting on the past, I note in my remembrances that mostly I am remembering the good times, the ecstatic times, the sweetness and light. The memory is a selective process, and there were certainly many times of struggle, fear, and unhappiness.
In particular, due to our change in financial circumstances, we had many days of outright fear about our health, as we could not afford to purchase health insurance of any kind, and having come from a life that provided all the comforts and insurances that kind of life provided, this was a constant thought in the back of our minds. What is something happened to one of us. How would we cope?
We worried about our future, as we had no pension plan, no savings whatsoever. As well, we struggled with feeling right about our choice to go back to the land, and the discomfort we felt when in the presence of family and old friends who could not understand why we would do such a thing, and who looked askance at us in our Maine back-to-earth clothes, and our indifference to those values from which we had come and had been so immersed in. Family and friends could not understand why we would give up the security and comfort of a government job, nor the prestige that the Foreign Service offered us, for S inevitably would have climbed closer and closer to Ambassadorship. One family member who visited us commented in droll fashion” Well, it is all very nice, but I couldn’t live like this!” Another friend on a visit to see us, left the day after shaking his head in disbelief. We have never heard from him since.
In that same vein, one of the more difficult breaks we had to make was with old friends who would come by, ostensibly to stay with us because they wanted to see us, but really, because we had a house in beautiful Maine in which they could stay free of charge during the summer. In the best of times, with the best of people, houseguests are a burden. Add to that equation our life-style change and our choice to “drop out”, and you get a toxic mix. We felt more discomfort than they did, because we had chosen a life style that no longer valued the many things they valued, and which they just assumed we should still value. Eventually we became strong enough to suggest they find a hotel, because we did not have the room. But that took a long time to come to. We frequently would refuse to go to family or friends’ parties that were composed of similar kinds of individuals, only because we now felt out of place, and really did not care for the superficial conversations that went on at these gatherings. In addition, we would inevitably come away with the sense that we had not lived up to their expectations.
It was a very long time, many years, before S and I could comfortably and with ease stand before these kinds of people without hanging our heads in shame, or being made to feel shameful. Indeed, eventually we stood taller and with more confidence than we ever had before embarking on this journey. Moreover, others’ opinions about us would come to no longer matter whatsoever. Indeed, eventually, we would be able to make those with whom we no longer had much in common feel particularly comfortable with us, despite that difference. But that came much later. In other words, initially we had little confidence in our chosen life, and the old ways from whence we had come, were constant reminders of that lack of confidence. The ability to stand firm and alone in one’s choice is discouraged throughout our educational conditioning, not to mention by parents who fear, however subconscious it may be, that they will lose their children if those children grow truly independent, in mind, and not just in body. Therefore, in the early moments of this kind of change, it is wise to keep the elephant tethered to a tree and surrounded by a fence to keep the elephant protected from outside marauders.
Since money was always in short supply, because of our priorities, we occasionally squabbled over the lack of it, and our arguments would escalate into screaming fests from time to time, one or the other of us stomping out into the woods to cool off. However, in the heat of these arguments, we never left one another to “go back home”, because we knew that home was where we were, and we took ourselves to be that “home” and somehow we knew the problem was within each of us, and not somewhere out there, taking the blame. Very early on we knew that we take ourselves with us wherever we may go, and change in attitude of others, as well of course ourselves, always needs to be internally conceived, and cannot be externally coerced. This was to become a kind of mantra for us when times got particularly rocky. I now see that this is a small seed thought of the full-blown tree of “external reality always reflects the internal consciousness”.
The process of shedding the past, and the numerous values that would no longer serve us in this undertaking required a great deal of sacrifice and inner questioning. Fortunately, each of us had one another, and kept one another honest when we would inevitably try to shift the onus to something other than our own individual weaknesses. We were in that way, one another’s gurus. But this was not easy. Being equals, many arguments, hurt feelings, sulking and outright anger would erupt as a result of one of us correcting, observing a weakness, or criticizing the other. Putting a guru on a pedestal eliminates that ability to object. However, living with the guru, as I did with S, and S did with me, as husband and wife, makes the process of self observation considerably more constant, sustainable, and hot, and therefore, in many ways, more effective. It tends to burn out the chaff fairly quickly. You can always run or even hide from the formal guru “up there”, but it is not as easy to run from your spouse.
However, there were times when we would look at one another and after marveling at what we had undertaken, share our uncertainty and fear of the future, and question, almost in a whisper, and with fear of acknowledging it, if we had done the right thing. That said, we never truly regretted the step we took, and because the good times outweighed the bad in huge measure, we never truly considered leaving the land nor looking for a “good paying job” elsewhere, that was never an option. We had somehow relegated money to where it should be, and that was, as an instrument to facilitate living. So long was we had our needs met, we had enough, despite all the various “wants”
We learned to value what we had, learned to live with less than perfect solutions to our mundane needs, and give up a lot of the goodies of life because of that. We had to take care of whatever it was that we already had, and there were times when we looked back at the life of ease we had left with a bit of nostalgia, even longing, but it was always for “things”, not the life itself. For example, we had a Volvo that eventually logged in 360,000 miles, even receiving a medallion from Volvo to attach to our car in recognition of our supreme accomplishment in keeping the old clunker alive for so long. We repaired it ourselves, and finally had to give it up because, while its engine ran perfectly, its body had rusted out from the salt on the roads in the winter, and we envisioned the engine falling through the floor while on the highway, and that was not good.
We often made our own clothes, because we could not afford to purchase many new ones, and we got pretty good at it, S even learning to sew shirts and pants. Interestingly, and possibly because we chose Maine in which to undertake this journey, I do not recall ever feeling less than another nor embarrassed because of my frugal clothing or our need to be careful with money. However, no doubt there were some that concluded otherwise. Somehow, because perhaps from living in the woods with other old timers who didn’t seem to dress particularly elegantly, and who had a tolerance for others different from themselves, we were pretty comfortable with ourselves, so long as we stayed away from our past and all that that entailed.
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