Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stepping Off The Cliff — Elizabeth Garber

The conversation I keep having goes something like this:
“I heard you’ve sold your home.”
“Yes, I’m moving to cohousing.”
“So, are the houses built?”
“Ah, no. They’ll start building first thing in the spring.”
“So how soon can you move in?”
“About two years from now.”
“So where are you going to live until then?”
“I’m figuring it out.”

My twenty year old daughter says, “Mom, this isn’t rational. Why are you leaving my beautiful house to live like some college student? Now I have no place to come home to! Where will I have Thanksgiving?”

I promise her, “Wherever I live, I’ll have a place for you.” She’s unconvinced.

Usually when people move, they are moving someplace — where they will move in, and set up home right away again. Or sometimes people my age, once their kids have left home, pack up and go off traveling or go to the Peace Corps. I’m downsizing and storing my belongings because of a vision a small group of us hold that we are creating a village where we’ll live together, have gardens, and so much more. It is this vision we’ve been developing for years that I now lean into as I sell my house and begin to pack.

At first, there is an exhilaration and excitement about the lightening up, sorting through of a lifetime of raising my two children. I finally cleaned out the medicine cabinet I’d meant to organize for years. I threw out old children’s cough medicine bottles, and organized all my herbs and homeopathic remedies in a plastic tub for taking with me. I descended through layers of history as I cleaned out the cubbies in the roll-top desk—finding, in the bottom of the drawers, my daughter’s five-year-old drawings of princesses, photos of my kids, love notes they left for me over the years. How much do I keep or toss? Someone is coming to buy the desk, the wood stove sold, my daughter’s high school desk sold. I listen to my gut. What do I keep, sell or give away? The peach couch is going to a single mom with a little girl so they can read books the way I did for years. The give-away party for my friends is in five days, the yard sale in six, the moving day in less than two weeks. I’m feeling weary and scared. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be living this winter. I get emails and calls with generous offers of places to stay. My cohousing friend, Coleen, just put her house under contract. I’m not alone in this. We plan to be roommates, living somewhere for the next two years.

I’m dismantling the life I created to raise my children as a single mom for the last ten years. I’m getting ready to begin the next era of my life. All this sounds sensible, until sometimes I find myself as tearful and vulnerable as the day when my youngest left home three years ago.  This is the end of the era of my raising my children that I’m grieving. I find a folder of my son’s art work from grade school. Do I keep it? And what about his stuffed dragon, and favorite t-shirt when he was two? I stare at the photos of their little faces beaming at me from their childhoods. Now my engineer son gives me a G-1 cellphone and teaches me how to check email. He’s all for the move, thrilled I’ll be living in such an energy efficient house in a community of like minded people. He cheers me on, while my daughter calls from her apartment in Somerville, Mass, “But why do you have to leave my beautiful house?”

At bedtime, I take out my worn Tarot deck that I’ve used for years when I’ve asked for guidance. I slide the cards, face down, through my hands, asking the question, “Where am I in my life?”  Finally I pull out one card and turn it over and laugh. Of, course. I’ve chosen The Fool. A youth, smiling merrily, is stepping off a cliff. It is the ancient card for beginning a journey. I read from the book: “On an inner level, the Fool, is an image of the mysterious impulse within us to leap into the unknown. The conservative, cautious, realistic side of us watches with horror this wild, youthful spirit who, trusting in heaven, is prepared to walk over the cliff’s edge without a moment’s hesitation.” Yes, this is the beginning of the next adventure. I have always listened to the call for what is next.

In 1985, when I was thirty two I drove to Maine from California in a Honda Civic packed with all I owned, $300, and a vision: to start my practice, get married and have a family. As I sort through tapes for the yard sale, I find songs I belted out as I drove across county, the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin “Sisters are Doing It for Themselves.” Do I keep this tape or pass it on? What do I need for the life ahead? I imagine putting this on a tape player as we mop the Common House floor before a dance. Ok, I’ll keep it.

What do I save from the last eras for this, the next adventure? My life has been a series of leaps into the unknown. Many looked foolhardy and irrational from the outside. So this leap towards cohousing is the next stepping off the cliff. As a life strategy, it’s worked amazingly well for me. I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have followed an amazing  path, but it doesn’t mean it gets any more comfortable. I still wake up unsettled, but I trust in the vision this community of fine people is holding together. I trust in the foundation we are building month after month to create a life together. I’m not alone in this. We are all a community of fine fools, trusting in a vision of a life we’ll create together, stepping off the cliff.


Coleen and I are going to be renting a furnished beautiful house in Bayside this winter, and spend the summer in Geoff and Abby's spacious church sanctuary where we danced to rock and roll this summer. We'll have to do that again next summer!! What's kind of wild is that for years I've had thoughts of cool things I'd like to do someday: live in a church and spend a winter in Bayside. So now is the time to do both! After I described the cozy house in Bayside, my daughter can't wait to come for Thanksgiving!

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