There is something I haven't told you.
Change is afoot. It began in Arkansas. No, that is not quite accurate because it began before I went to Arkansas, but I only became aware of the shift in Arkansas. It seems so long ago now, but of course it is not, merely 2 months. Two months that seem in some ways like a whirlwind and in others like a lifetime.
My last day in Fayetteville was drizzly and gray. I had hoped to visit at least one of the state parks we had camped at when I was a child. But of course it was December and the parks were closed. Instead I walked around Lake Fayetteville, a little over 4 miles of paved trail around the lake, but I took detours, wandered at will, and walked slightly over 5 miles, returning to my car chilled and happy.
It is amazing to me how going someplace else, someplace outside of your normal purview, brings you closer to yourself. One stretches sides of oneself that get neglected in the routines of everyday life, and although it sounds completely banal to say so, the everyday and the extraordinary almost become transposed in an odd way that brings us closer to ourselves. Strange that, the way that the place where we feel most at home, most secure, and I am a homebody if anything, is sometimes so secure that we lose some essential part of ourselves.
So there I was, walking in the cold, mid-40's drizzle, on a Sunday afternoon in early December. I was a visitor to Northwest Arkansas. I knew no one, although I would smile and chat with the few other walkers and bicyclists I would pass, and some part of me felt perfectly comfortable and safe. Ostensibly, in a very real way, I was not. I was a middle aged single woman on a wooded path in a mostly deserted space, a woman not from the area, whom no one knew, and no one knew where I was. I have not forgotten this aspect of existence, and it is always present. But if we think of it we become paralyzed. Although I don't believe I had ever been to Lake Fayetteville before, I had spent time in this area as a child. The geology, the flora, the sense of the place was familiar to me and it felt like home. Truthfully it felt like an echo of home, an imagining, because I haven't been in Northwest Arkansas in 43 or 44 years. The people, the towns, the environment has changed; it is no longer the place I knew even though echoes of that place still exist.
As I thought about Arkansas, as I thought about how I'd love to go back and hike the trails I hiked as a child, explore the familiar places, I began to question myself. Why is it, I wondered, do I feel more secure in a land of memory, in a land of fleeting familiarity, familiarity that is in fact an illusion, than in the place I currently live. I don't go hiking in the Smokies, although I often think about doing so, and they are much closer to home. Honestly I am no safer in Arkansas than at home, perhaps less safe. What is it about memory, about personal history, about the illusion of knowing something that lulls us into false security? And of course this got me thinking about home. Why is it that we are willing to cling to something that we know is not right, just because it is familiar, rather than risk change? I am just as prone to this as anyone else.
It was at this moment that I realized that I was ready to let go. The house I live in is, in its own way, a chain, tying me to the past. It was never intended to be a permanent space, we knew we might only be here temporarily. Miriam's words echo in my mind, from before we moved: "It is only a three-year grant" she said, as well as my response "Three years is a lifetime for your father." How prescient those words proved to be. Not quite two years later he was gone. But I wasn't ready. I needed time. Last summer I was still not ready. The thought of moving made me sick, even though there was a house on the market I thought I potentially liked. Then I painted the house, rearranged the furniture yet again, ostensibly getting it ready in advance, but also looking forward to enjoying this newly revitalized space for another year or so. My intention was to begin looking for a new place in January 2018, a time that fit into my neatly organized plan: I would make a decision about moving five years after George's death. But as I walked around Lake Fayetteville, I realized I was ready to let go, ready to move on.
When I returned home I was chatting with a friend, and I mentioned this realization, this acceptance that I was ready to move forward to the next stage, that I have in fact built my own life and the only thing truly keeping me from fully occupying it required a very physical letting go of the old life. I have changed this house; made it more mine, but the house itself was never "my" house, it was a place that fit a specific need, the needs of a dying George. It was always a house of letting go and moving on, and now it is time to do just that. I won't lose the past; it is a part of me always. Our pasts are always wedded to who we are, but we don't have to be chained by them. And so I will be moving. I honestly don't know when yet. But in the past few years I have built a life, my life, and now it is time to step into it fully.