Does my Aching Back Mean I’m Sad to Be Leaving?

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29 Days to Target Departure

My back still hurts but not as badly. Yesterday I got a (much modified) yoga class and then a massage from my friend Gillian who has a better view of how our bodies work than anyone I’ve ever met. She says I lifted something heavy and neglected to bend my legs, which I’m sure is true, but she also agrees with Bill that this bad back is partly an expression of sadness. I’m sure they’re both right. I’ve started saying, “I pulled my I-don’t-want-to-dismantle-my-house muscle.”

“You have to find a way to honor that sadness,” Gillian told me.

“I’m not sure how,” I said. I didn’t think I should talk to Bill about it. The idea that I’m sad to be leaving here is driving him crazy. Yesterday he actually proposed returning to Woodstock for the summers which is a batty idea on many levels. For starters, summers in the Pacific Northwest have almost no rain and thus almost no mosquitoes–one big reward for tolerating the dreary winters. Also I’ve always hated the idea of living in two places. The whole snowbird thing never appealed to me. I want to live one place where I can put down roots, like I’ve done here. Which I guess is the exact problem.

So I’ll say it: Leaving here is breaking my heart. Especially this house which feels so much like a friend that I’ve been known to pat its walls affectionately. When I lived here alone, I would walk from the living room into the kitchen at night thinking, “This is mine,” and feel that all was right in the world. Over the years, we’ve added things. First, the magical built-into-the-wall wood stove that looks like a fireplace but heats the whole house. Then we turned the screened-in porch into a sunroom and added a cedar-fenced vegetable garden. Then we started having the field mowed in a path where Bill walks in summer and I ski in winter. It’s slowly become the perfect house for me.

But I also see, for reasons having nothing to do with Bill, why it might be time to move on. That cross-country skiing for instance. Every year, there’s less and less of it because there’s less and less snow. I didn’t plant my garden this year because I knew I was leaving but every gardener I know who did is frustrated beyond belief because nothing’s growing well this cold, rainy summer. Except the mosquitoes, who tend to chase us indoors and made a mockery of our one-time plan to build a deck. I know the climate is changing and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, but living here for 22 years I’m actually watching it change, and that’s almost unbearable. So I know that even if I stay in place, the place as I loved it will eventually leave me.

For most of the time I’ve lived here there was a lady who lived in a large house at the top of the hill. She had many dogs, a coop full of chickens, and two sheep. Walking up that hill is my default daily exercise, and I used to love pulling up grass and feeding it to those sheep in their enclosure. Over the years they got more sedate and less inclined to meet me at the fence and then for several months I was doing other exercises and didn’t walk up the hill. When I did it again, only one sheep remained and she rose stiffly to her feet and hobbled over to meet me. After that she stopped getting up and then soon enough she was gone too.

Sometimes the house’s elderly owner would be out in the yard and we’d chat. She’d lived in that house forever. She’d planted the two towering pine trees in the front yard as saplings more than 40 years ago. But over time, I stopped seeing her outside, though there would often be the blue flicker of a television through the curtains.

About a year ago, people were carting furniture out of her house. I stopped and asked what was going on. She was in a nursing home, they told me, and not expected to live long. The house stands empty now, its chain link fence falling over in sections, nothing but ghosts of the woman and her animals who lived there. Is that better? I wonder. Live out your life in one place, leaving a sad shell behind?

Or better to roam, criss-cross the world and maybe leave nothing behind but memories? The answer, I suppose is neither: Stop thinking about a future of aging, decay, and death and live in the now which is all we really have. But I’ve never been good at living in the now. Maybe someday I’ll get better.

OK, so I’m trying to honor the sadness. “Write about it,” Gillian suggested, so now I have. Will this help my back get better? We’ll have to see.

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Image: The winter view from our bathroom window

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