Five years ago today, my husband and I signed the papers on the property that we now call home. I remember that day well, how nervous I was, already second guessing myself and fearful that we were doing the wrong thing. It was a gorgeous October day much like this one, cloudless and crisp, just a few leaves left on the trees. We finished the closing and drove up from town, to our new land and our dilapidated little cottage. Sitting outside that autumn morning next to my reluctant partner in this enterprise, sipping a coffee from Nonie’s, I tried hard to make the moment special. We had just bought ourselves a house, after all, and ten acres of rocky fields, and a lovely view of Pack Monadnock. But neither of us was feeling very excited; there was, obviously, no turning back, and we weren’t quite sure how to go forward. Would we actually live here, in the old cottage? It seemed so remote that morning, so meager and run-down, compared to what we’d left behind. I wondered if we would actually be happy here, whether we would be able to fix up the house, whether we would ever come to feel that this New Hampshire hilltop was where we are really meant to be.
Yesterday, Steve and I raked leaves. The view across the mountains is completely familiar now and yet always surprising; washed with color on a perfect fall afternoon, the spectacle of dappled mountain against blue sky still holds me in thrall. Henry, home for fall break, was reading in the hammock, tossing tennis balls for Gracie. Day by day, I’ve been cutting back the garden, pulling out the annuals, cleaning up the beds. But the chrysanthemums are still blooming, and the kitchen herbs continue to thrive. The place looks pretty good. Everywhere I turn, I see something that we have planted, built, or tended–and also something that still needs to be done. As we hauled a huge tarp load of leaves down through the field to our growing burn pile, I asked my husband, “If you had the chance to do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you have stayed put, or are you glad that we moved, and ended up here?”
“Moving made me less afraid of the unknown,” he said. “And a lot more open to change. But even apart from that, I can finally say I’m glad we did it. Life here is better than I expected, and even if we’d never moved at all, our lives would have changed anyway.”
Hypothetical questions are silly. But I knew that our house “anniversary” was coming up today, and I couldn’t resist asking. I feel lucky to be here, too, and grateful for the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Leaving one home and making another one was a way to test ourselves, to sift through a lot of our assumptions about what it means to live well, to figure out what’s important and hold on to that, while letting go of a lot that we’d always thought we needed. The thing is, even now, after giving up one way of life, in one place, for another life elsewhere; after tearing down a house and building a new house from scratch and moving in; after sending one son off to college and getting the other midway through high school; after writing a book about all that and then hitting the road to publicize it, I still feel as if I’m sorting all this stuff out. I still have to figure out what really matters, every single day. Change is still scary to me, even though we’ve lived through plenty of it. And yet, my life is also filled with great joy and countless things to be grateful for. Mornings, I get up eager to see what the day will bring. At night I step outside, look up at the stars, and feel glad to be exactly where I am. This week, I’ve been surprised that the leaves have already fallen here, that frost came so early, that I still miss Henry so much when he’s not around, that Jack is so tall and so funny. Tonight, I was even surprised that dinner took so long to prepare, and then, that sitting around the table–our last night together before Henry goes back to school–felt at once so wonderful and so bittersweet. Sometimes I wonder, will all of this, any of it, ever start to feel like old hat? Or will life continue to take me by surprise forever?
We flicked on the news for a few minutes after dinner, and saw author Michael Chabon interviewed on the PBS News Hour. He’s written a new book of essays called “Manhood for Amateurs.” “I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a pro at any of this stuff,” Chabon said. I know exactly what he means. The fact is, we are all just feeling our way here, trying our best to be parents, spouses, friends, daughters and sons. Long experience of living on the planet doesn’t necessarily make us great at being human beings, but our passion for the work will take us far. Five years after making the leap, I’m glad we landed here, and I’m also well aware that the challenge of crafting a life doesn’t end with a house being built, or a son leaving home, or a book being completed. It’s ongoing. And being a passionate amateur is perfectly ok.