Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain.
Leaving home — the familiar ways of one’s country — is always daunting. Leaving home at the age of seventy-two is, for some, unimaginable — or unimaginably weird. But for many of us who consider ourselves storytellers, the idea of starting a new adventure later in life feels remarkable.
But strangely enough, none of the above occurred to me when I set out upon this odyssey seven years ago.I left my country, Canada; I left my family, my friends and the companionable sense of the familiar. I left a life on my own that I’d created and tended since the death of my husband years before.
I journeyed forward to a new marriage, a new family and mountainous scenery I’d only ever visited in my youth.
Old friends and my family wished me well, half-expecting to welcome me back home again shortly after. But seven years later, they no longer wait. Instead they visit me here, settled into life in a new country.
When I go back through my documentation for entering the United States, I see an extraordinary adventure playing out — copies of passports, visas, long-form birth certificates, letters from my immigration lawyer.
As I make my way back through the files, I remember the interviews. The immigration officer assigned to interview my husband-to-be and I was late for our appointment because she was caught up in the letters and affidavits written in our support. She listened to us and remarked, “Are either of you writers? Because you might consider writing this story someday.”
The nights in which I wondered were few. The timing of this change seemed in alignment with my life’s trajectory. A good friend who knew me well, and who knew the depth of my grief when my late husband died, said with some intensity:
“You have taken your grief and created something lovely within yourself. What will it be?”
I had written a memoir about my late husband and our life together, a book entitled Will I Be Sitting Beside You? The writing was my way back from the dark places, and a way forward. I wanted to write. I thought about a cottage in Ireland, or an apartment in Paris. But who’d have thought Central Oregon? Yet there it was – the opportunity.
“Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman
At seventy-two, I made several life-changing decisions, each encouraging the other forward.
I married a man (a friend of my late husband) who lived in Central Oregon, a place I hadn’t known was on the map. I moved myself and my three Ragdoll cats to a house among mountains and Juniper trees, I who had lived for many years near Lake Ontario, the busyness of highways and the skyline of apartment buildings.
And I decided to write a novel.
Here in the High Desert of Central Oregon I’ve found myself surrounded by artists, painters, writers and friends who, from my arrival, encouraged me and folded me into their world.
They are the people who understand the occasional misgivings that life changes can generate. Something about the Pacific Northwest attracts the wanderer. And each know the disquiet that a life of journeying can create, and the paradoxical sense of equanimity that can emerge when we find our feet in a strange place.
My renewed confidence in what life offers emerges from taking a risk, landing on my feet, and recognizing that expanding my horizons has given me a new range of vision and landscape. I feel braver.
I’ve been given place and time to listen and respond to my yearning to write. Here, among the mountains, which I can see from the room where I write every day, I have a novel written and another well into its story.
My first novel is about an older professor who decides to pick up her life and move to the west coast of Ireland. There she experiences the fears and assurances that come with emigration or, as a friend of mine chooses to call it, an exit from the old to the new.
Might I have written this novel while living in the familiar? I guess I’ll never know. For me, my yearning to write, my inborn curiosity and my willingness to dwell in possibility have expanded my horizons. The mountains are there each morning as I come to write.
The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time. – Mary Oliver.