One of my good women friends fairly recently entered her 60s. Carolyn is a single mother and her sons are both grown up and independent.
Finding herself dissatisfied with just about everything, she decided to do a life purge and so, got rid of her boyfriend, job, dog, horse and house. Having spent 30 years in Los Angeles, a city she never really liked, she took off for the East Coast where her aging mother lives, with no plan except allegedly to take care of her.
This is the first time in 40 years that she hasn't had a job and we are not allowed to use the word retired. She says she's on a sabbatical. With no job to go back to I don't think that qualifies as a sabbatical but I don't point that out to her. She has rented a tiny apartment in North Adams, Mass. very close to her mother's residence in Williamstown. While the intention is noble, to the casual observer, it seems Carolyn spends as little time with her mother as possible. Most of her time is spent exploring every state in New England and visiting friends. "Have car will travel" is her motto -- so pretty much any invitation is accepted. She has a lot of East Coast friends. Carolyn is, by her own admission, auditioning lifestyles.
Now all this might sound like the behavior of a wealthy woman but in fact she is not wealthy. I happen to know that she lived for quite some time with her two small children in South Central Los Angeles. She is good with money and seems to be able to hang her hat anywhere from a castle to a cabin.
She stayed with us on The Vineyard for three days. She was enthusiastic about everything. She loved the horses. I did think it a bit odd that, having recently let go of her horse on the West coast, ostensibly for some freedom, she was considering tying herself down with ranch life on the East coast.
We went swimming at the Ice house pond and she swam like an Olympic Champion ... I gasped my way across as she whizzed by. Getting out of the water, I noticed her casting an eye around the pond as if assessing the surrounding real estate. Perhaps life on a serene pond could be the next thing.
Then, while on the beach, I noticed a nude man and suggested that we had inadvertently stumbled onto the clothing optional section. After exclaiming that she had spent a very lovely weekend with her ex-boyfriend at a nudist colony, she got three of us post-60-year-old women to throw off our clothes and rush into the water. It was exhilarating, I must say. Not impossible that she is considering a life without the burden of dressing every day.
When I asked her what her plans were, she looked at me with affection and said -- "Who knows? Maybe I should live on Martha's Vineyard." I have no doubt that she said the same thing about the last four or five places she visited.
This footloose and independent attitude is unsettling to me. I like to think of myself as a free spirit. What a joke. Thirty years ago I happened to do one of Tony Robert's visualization exercises. I wrote down in great detail what I wanted my future to look like and now I'm living it. Is there another more authentic me that I've ignored, that needs to be uncovered? Maybe I need to throw everything away and start over. Did I settle for my life because of a lack of nerve or imagination?
Over coffee one morning she talked about the pressure she felt having to invent every day and make it meaningful. In the space of an hour she might consider finding a job at a community college, volunteering with habitat for humanity, applying to the Peace Corps or going to a spa to get her nails and hair done. Her most recent idea was researching the life of Crazy Horse because she was just in Fort Robinson, Nebraska where he was murdered by the Calvary.
I'm working on loving what I have, and she's looking at creating a whole new life. Well, borrowing a friend's life. Maybe mine. And suddenly I see my life through her eyes. I have a good marriage that has lasted for 25 years so far. My husband is my partner and helps me do everything. My children are girls which means they are more inclined to stick around their parents even as they make their own families. Maybe she's right. Maybe I am the luckiest woman alive!!!
After three days I took her to catch her ferry and as we drove down our driveway past our chickens, I heard her say, "Note to self -- have chickens."