18 September 2010

Pause for reflection: A year of drastic change

Our trip through the alphabet as it relates to cuisine will continue, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a milestone. 
The future loomed ahead of us, the house loomed over us.

One year ago, my lovely wife and I put the keys in the door of our very old new house and stepped over the threshold into a world of change.

It was a scary step. Any time we've bought a new house (this was our third) I've felt a brief moment of panic upon walking through it the first time after getting the keys. It's one thing to walk through someone else's house and picture yourself living there, and entirely another to walk through listening to the echo of your footsteps off the walls that you suddenly own. That quirky "character" feature might suddenly look like an expensive remodeling project. The sound of passing traffic suddenly ricochets off everything. And when the gas company has ungraciously cut off service, leaving you with no hot water for the weekend, all the worse.

But this, this was even bigger than a moment of buyer's remorse. This was "we've just changed our lives irreversibly" panic, founded in the knowledge that we'd chosen to go down the path much less travelled. We'd given up a great life in the big city of Ottawa, our nation's capital, in favour of a new, uncertain life in the small city of Guelph – a city living just west of and practically in the shadow of Toronto's skyline.

In the driveway we had a cargo van full of enough stuff to keep my wife in this house until movers came a week later with the rest of our belongings. I would be commuting back and forth for another month until my new job materialized. Nothing like some forced marital separation to compound an already stressful situation.

Picking up and moving your life across a province isn't as glamorous as switching continents, but the upheaval is almost as significant. Selling a house, buying a house, finding jobs and new community involvement are all key parts of making it happen. But perhaps hardest of all is breaking the news to friends that you're moving away. In our case, the line between friends and colleagues was blurred, so making the break professionally had a profound effect on our personal lives as well.

We knew it was now or never. For my wife, it was a key time in the progression of her career as a lawyer, a time where the word "partner" was being tossed around. If she became partner, we wouldn't move until she retired at the ripe old age of 70-something.

For me, it was a strong need to break out of the Public Service, but an unwillingness to commit to the private sector in a city where I never really felt at home, and furthermore, a city where the shadow of the Public Service looms over everything.

For both of us, it was a strong compulsion to live in a much smaller community that wasn't so isolated from the rest of the province.

If you're going to make major change, we reasoned, best to do it all at once.

So we broke the news to close friends and family over countless glasses – nay, bottles – of wine. Through misty eyes and shocked expressions came promises that 500 kilometers wasn't that far at all, and that friendships wouldn't be lost over a simple change in geography.

And thus, we stepped over that threshold on September 19, 2009, into a new life. A life in which only half of what we knew before was true. We had each other. We had a roof on a solid red brick 3 story house to cover our heads. We knew one set of friends who lived just seven or eight blocks away. And my wife, at least, had a job to start to following week. We even knew our way around town, having lived here before.

The rest, we reasoned, would fall into place. Change is hard, we knew. What we were feeling was to be expected.

Hope, fear, and uncertainty combined in a strange and powerful emotional mixture for us that day.

The house we were stepping into had been occupied for 45 years or so by a now very old woman. What I smelled as I walked in was dust, must, and gaudiness. In the next 12 months, we would pull carpets, paint, make mechanical upgrades, gut a kitchen and bathroom, and otherwise overhaul  our house to restore her to being the grand old dame we thought she could be. And in this same amount of time, we would each start new jobs, new community roles, and new friendships. I think the major house projects gave us a focus that made it all easier to digest. After all, if we had nothing else to do, we could undertake another renovation.

One year later, twelve months of constant change and development has us feeling strong and confident – and pretty darn sure that we did the right thing.

Sure, there are moments of doubt. We moved to a small city from a major metropolitan area, and that has its consequences. There are a few things about cold, dark Ottawa that we miss, and when I experienced a lay-off for a couple of months late this summer, I sure wondered about the choice to leave the Public Service, where job security is so strong it's almost problematic.

Sometimes, when we don't have social plans, we realize how few people we know here, even though we had lived here a decade before. While we have made some fantastic friends, it will still be a few years until we're fully esconsed in our community. Worst of all, when we moved, we seem to have lost what we thought was a very dear set of friends-almost-family – and I for one still feel that loss as a sharp pain in my chest. Perhaps that's more the pain of realizing how perception and reality didn't match up.

I miss my Ottawa nieces and nephew immensely. We miss all our friends and family who are still in the Ottawa area, for that matter.

But the bright side is so shiny it's almost blinding. Each of us is incredibly happy with our career moves, even though they haven't been completely without challenge. Our proximity to my wife's extended family has given us plenty of comfort and social commitments. We've had friends come to visit – friends of all kinds – which created a whole new dynamic in our relationships with them. We've hosted family at Christmas, and have even thrown a few parties...all of which has made this house feel more like a home, and our lives feel full and warm.

One year.

I wouldn't change anything about it, nor would I go back and stop us from putting that key in the door. Life isn't about doing the easy thing. It's about doing what's right – even when that's hard. Leaving your comfort zone can be stressful, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

And yes, there are times when you don't know for sure if that threshold you're stepping over is the right one – really, only time will tell.

Twelve long months, one fast year later, I am pretty sure we put the right key in the right door.

This is where I give thanks to everyone who has supported and nurtured us in the last year. The transition was made easier by your belief in us, and we appreciate the boost.

1 comment:

Mamadragon said...

Nicely written, Marshal. I suppose it would be useless for me to beg you to just move back? I knew it.