Posted October 1, 2017
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Back in 2015, while scanning our photos and documents, this sentence caught my eye …
“Hand in hand, the old woman and her old man crossed over to the other side of the mountain.”
Most Sundays, in the year before LIB, Jim and I scanned every document, photo, journal, diary, newspaper clipping, letter, and manuscript – it was like watching our lives flash before our eyes.
Today, it reminds me more of the old chicken riddle: Why did the old couple cross over the mountain? To buy cheaper pharmaceuticals, of course!
The other side of the mountain like the other side of the door or the moon – is a metaphor to describe risk, fear and the unknown. In literature, it is present in everything from heaven to apocalypse. And is applied toward war, peace, fantasy, hope in darkness, life and death. But, most prominent in my memory is a campfire song we Girl Scouts sang merrily in rounds:
“The bear went over the mountain / The bear went over the mountain / The bear went over the mountain / To see what he could see …”
Wow… Did I have a moment of prescience in my late 20’s?
“Hand in hand, the old woman and her old man crossed over to the other side of the mountain to see what they could see …”
Hmm …? Did that couple want to be nimble and free? To follow their instincts wherever they lead?
It all began when we realized that home ownership had stopped being fun.
Once upon a California time, we craved the excitement of playing the equity game – the wheeling and dealing with insurance, taxes, loans, and upgrades. Adulting tasks were fun back then and the exciting, hot SoCal housing market energized our youthful ambitions.
But even Disneyland closes at night. With only 20-30 years left, the financial reality for us is, owning a home fails the economic efficiency test. Even if our house was paid off, our DIY days are over. So, the cost to properly remodel and maintain our two-on-one over the next couple of decades would amount to more than twice what we paid for our first house.
Figuring in life-expectancy, the recalibration of our financial profile didn’t provide much room to continue status quo. Just as many sharp, hardworking and educated Gen X’ers can’t survive on one job nowadays, many retired boomers can’t keep their house and quit working, much less travel.
One day, in our financial advisor’s office, we suddenly realized all this. What we needed – wanted! – was to let it all go and recreate our lives. We went to lunch at Karl Strauss that afternoon, exhilarated by possibilities and overwhelmed by the work ahead. Later that week, we scheduled dance lessons in Hillcrest. We needed to slow dance through this transition … be kind to ourselves. First, we cleared out the living room to make a space for practicing ballroom and swing as we chipped away at our monumental task.
In the end, we learned that were awful dancers, but we rocked at letting go as we embraced the less-is-more movement so many have championed before us.
A most thrilling pay-off of LIB is the stuff we don’t have to do anymore. We’ll never need to arrange another home loan, apply for permits, or hire a contractor for a remodel, repair or upgrade. We’re done with sanding cabinets, termite treatments, building inspections, scheduling delays, tenant applications.
And, as full-time RVers, we’re past the noise and filth of neighboring remodeling projects, hiring gardeners, housekeepers, storing stuff we don’t need, garage cleaning, garage sales and shopping for furniture we will someday have to donate anyway …
… which explains why, after eighteen months, we’re still celebrating!
… shunning self-confinement and walled fortresses for shadowy woods and rushing streams.
In the 80’s, during my Merton phase, I copied passages about the woes of this modern age on slips of paper. Some, I kept for years,
“Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.” (Seeds Of Contemplation)
And, today, here we are, a pair of old crows, scavaging the countryside for sparkly moments to adorn our metal nest – our gleaming hermitage – where we sip wine from stainless steel cups and plan for one more night and one more day. Edgy, yes, but cozy as Christmas.
Yet, like many retired people we wonder how we ever found the time for jobs! We’re always behind schedule with keeping truck and trailer together. But cleaning, polishing, grooming, maintaining and outfitting the rig is so therapeutic…
“Walking down a street, sweeping a floor, washing dishes, hoeing beans, reading a book, taking a stroll in the woods-all can be enriched with contemplation and with the obscure sense of the presence of God.” — Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience
Monitoring the silent killers – news consumption and blood pressure – are the only discomforts we can’t seem to shake. Some days we wish we didn’t have our new Verizon cell signal booster.
“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning, we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think.” — Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
That dark side of the moon is a powerful illusion and always with us.
“The basic problem is not political, it is a-political and human. One of the most important things to do is to keep cutting deliberately through political lines and barriers and emphasizing the fact that these are largely fabrications and that there is another dimension, a genuine reality, totally opposed to the fictions of politics: the human dimension which politics pretend to arrogate entirely to themselves. This is the necessary first step along the long way toward the perhaps impossible task of purifying, humanizing and somehow illuminating politics themselves.”
— Letter from Thomas Merton to Jim Forest, August 27, 1962