It’s A New Life For Me

I’m reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, alongside Joan Anderson’s A Year by the Sea, after recently finishing Ann Patchett’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist novel The Dutch House

What a twisted reading experience if there ever was one, but then again, it’s the beginning of my new life, half of me is enmeshed with retirement remorse, the other half is dare I say buoyant.

Water, treachery, and self-reflection seem to be concurrent themes running through each of the novels, and as I am a believer in serendipitous encounters, these stories have either been a fortuitous occurrence, or the worst coincidence of all time. 

Regardless, I’m grateful, restless, hopeful, and a little bitchy if you must know. 

After spending some time at sea myself (Fancy Like Us) I’m feeling the tidal pull for some isolation and reflective time which seems as rare as hooking a fish for the old man and the sea.

If it were up to me I would do as Hemingway describes, “his choice had been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries of the world.” My thoughts exactly.

Instead, I settle myself by the fire in the new sitting room, my loyal dog lounging on the adjacent couch, and I bend my head to my work. 

Joan Anderson says in The Year By The Sea the task of the unfinished woman is to acknowledge her life as a work in progress, allowing each passage, evolution, experience to offer wisdom for her soul.

Although I realize it is alarmingly obvious to others that I am an unfinished woman, comprehending this myself was a monumental task, and a new source of fear if I were to be totally honest, as if I forgot to floss. There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself writes Ann Patchett from The Dutch House

That’s where I am, it’s like she is inside my head, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one juggling these thoughts, or her book would not have been such a phenomenal success. 

The intersection of these three stories, all agonizing battles involving wildly different nemesis’, from a giant marlin, to an opulent mansion, and a challenging marriage, but all of these scenarios drag you towards the pleasures of sabbatical, a period of time granted to fellow sojourners to bask in activities that refresh, enliven, revitalize our weary souls. Sometimes a shower just won’t do.

I admit I’m feeling a little like Job, covered in psoriasis, assailed by doubt, confused about my current purpose in life, and we don’t have forever, because I read in chapter 14 (not that I’m obsessed or anything) that God has decided the length of our lives and we are not given a minute longer. Seems harsh. 

Joan Anderson decides to spend a year at her beach house, away from her marriage, and other influences to work on her own issues. Everyone knows there is no love without respect, especially if you are married, and she decides not to follow her husband to his new job, but invest in her own future. She says something pivotal about vocations, “learning that what’s important is not so much what I do to make a living as who I become in the process.” This is as consequential as Spanx and just as confining.

Its why our veterans suffer with PTSS, when you spend your day scanning for danger in a war zone you’ll do the same in your civilian life. This applies to those of us who spend our time trying to screw the competition, acting aggressive and manipulative, that too follows you into your relationships as if a devoted dog only he’s been abused. I can’t think of many occupations that don’t demand the worst of us to be successful but imagine if we considered our vocations as formational how our relationships might benefit? Just a thought from a recent retiree who misses bossing people around. But I digress…

We tend to think of sabbatical in academic terms, as a school year free from teaching duties that can be devoted to research, travel, and writing. This is why I retired. Right? So I could have a perpetual sabbatical to pursue my passions, and I’m finding that has more to do with outlying influences, than blogging, or stalking the grandkids. 

Big surprise. 

It’s not going as expected, nothing ever does and I believe that’s what makes life so interesting, maybe a little frustrating, because every waking moment (and some sleeping) is infused with unforeseeable circumstances, occasional calamity, but also fortuitous opportunities.

I’m just not prepared to deal with all of them at the same time.

Traditionally, sabbaticals are not just for scholars, it’s actually related to Sabbath, which was God’s day of rest, or the seventh day in creation. We can trace the origins of both sabbatical and Sabbath (if you’re into etymology) to the Greek word sabbaton, meaning rest.

We wrestle with the concept of rest in our culture as if our self worth is defined by how busy we are and how sleep deprived we happen to be. It’s crazy. Let me defend define rest, it means to cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover our strength. It’s about guiltless siestas, vegging out, Netflix and chill sort of thing. 

Jubilee is associated with the concept of Sabbath but occurs every fifty years as if a solar eclipse, super moon, or mid-life crisis. Jubilee was created to alleviate the danger of people becoming trapped by enormous debt (both fiscal and emotional), debts they have no ability to indemnify. A Jubilee is a year of remission of not only monetary debt, but emotional debt, sins, and also the punishment due to sin. A spiritual emancipation if you will.

Let me clarify, if you are fifty years or older you are forgiven, you are freed from all debt. No one is your keeper, no one has the authority to define you by the past, to declare you unclean, to judge you according to their standards and beliefs, because God knows living under the scrutiny and judgement of others is absolute hell. He sent Jesus to rectify that dismal situation and we killed him. Our priorities are ruthlessly clear. But we are not an erroneous creation. We are declared good by God herself, called to love, and before you say it, “what about judgement?” I would suggest we pull the log out of our own eye before pointing fingers at the incy, wincy splinter in our neighbor’s peepers. It says so in the book tucked in the bedside drawer of your hotel room.

It is indeed rare that we take the time to process our feelings, they roll in and out like the tides, and seem to be at the mercy of the moon’s gravitational pull. The thing is we’re focused on our survival, which can leave us with a ton of emotional debt, and like Visa, the interest is compounded. 

The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences writes Deng Ming-Dao.

Spending time alone, in solitude, allows me to actually hear my own thoughts which are usually drowned out by the noise and chatter of my busy lives. I wonder sometimes if we fear our own thoughts more than the maunder that surrounds us?

I realize I’m rambling on and on as I traipse across these radically different yet similar novels, but it’s like quicksand, I’m being sucked in. 

Women are especially susceptible to this sort of latent confusion in life, because we’re taught to be polite, not to express anger so we don’t appear bitchy, to put the needs of our families before our own, discouraged from expressing pride or confidence (God forbid we trigger someone’s insecurity with our own confidence), but most damaging of all is we fail to visualize our own future until we’re standing in the kitchen with no dishes to wash, no lunches to prepare, no lives to chauffeur around but our own. 

What the hell?

“We overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.” Ann Patchett

The thing is no one owes me anything. I must do the work myself if I hope to get to a place where I’ve authentically identified my current purpose, goals, passions, and for once in my life without the consent, approval or influence of others.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say I try fishing and don’t like it. Well, now I know something new about myself. I don’t need to go around carrying a bucket of worms for the rest of my life. It does not have to alter my worldview. I don’t need to resent the old man and the sea. But this is what we do, we allow negative emotions to stick with us longer than they need to. At times we can get angry and it has nothing to do with what pissed us off in the first place. It has to do with the underlying emotion that was awakened by what annoyed us because we’re still living in the past. And I think we can do better.

I realize we live in a repressive culture. One where we’re not allowed to express a different point of view or divergent opinion without getting labeled as some horrible piece of human rubbish. Christian Cintron says our culture encourages us to stay in both financial and emotional debt. Coincidence? I didn’t think so either. 

We must shift this paradigm from handling our emotions in the short term to investing the time it takes to do the hard work. This can be wildly difficult, like engaging in a courageous conversation, sharing something vulnerable, actively listening to each other, talking about our feelings, being kind to one another, or giving someone the benefit of the doubt. All shockingly rare in modern society because we don’t allow ourselves time to retreat, rest, reflect, and heal.

The thing is emotional debt is not only aligned with our physical health, but our joy, and ability to love unconditionally.

“I steady my nerves, knowing the moment of high tide is just that, a brief time that will always reverse itself and diminish,” writes Joan Anderson.

We might not all have a beach house on the Cape, a fishing boat anchored in the Caribbean, or a mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but we can give ourselves a break once in a while, take a drive to the coast, splash around in the surf, our future selves will thank us. As Ann Patchett says you can hold a beach ball underwater, but the second you stop, it’s going to shoot straight back up.

That’s who we are, we’re not meant to be held down, we’re created to be buoyant. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m feeling good…

I’m Living in the Gap, taking a tenable sabbatical, what would you do and where would you go? 

Anecdotes:

“And, having surrendered to a simpler life, I am finding excitement in little things that others might think dull.”

― Joan Anderson

“You must always retain some part of yourself which is nobody’s business. The minute you let others in on your secrets, you’ve given away some of your strength.”

― Ann Patchett 

But, then, nothing is easy.”

― Ernest Hemingway,

33 Comments

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    1. There’s a bit of a lull in activities around here, that’s when my thoughts get me into trouble. I sort of sat down and considered the books I’ve been steeping myself in and those are the “strong truths” that seem to rise up. I just passed on The Dutch House to my daughter and I’m anxious to discuss when she finishes. All three of those books are embedded with pearls of wisdom as if oysters waiting to be opened. Thanks for diving in with me, hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Cheryl, we all need that rest. I recall Robert Ludlum wrote this important phrase into the psyche of his assassin character Jason Bourne, “Rest is a weapon.” Even a killer knows he needs rest, so I guess us non-killers need it as well. Keith

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    1. It’s so true Keith. I suppose the last few years have felt a bit like a marathon for me. No wonder I’m suddenly obsessed with reading and relaxing. Love the quote from Bourne, “rest is a weapon” one that has been turned against our culture of business. I admit I feel a little like I’m moving in slow motion these days but I’m sure I’ll adjust. Thanks so much for the comment! Warmly, C

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      1. Cheryl, what gets lost on folks is when they are always plugged in to work, to social media, they are never disconnected to relax. That adds stress. For example, working from home usually means the worker works more hours, not less. Keith

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  2. I read a lot of Hemingway when I was in my teens, and haven’t read his books again since.
    Lately, I am beginning to think that certain books have their time in our lives, and we either outgrow them, or never actually get to them.
    A bit like some travel plans and life experiences, things that we are sure we will do ‘one day’, and that day never comes.
    The best thing about getting older is no longer having regrets about all that.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had to pick up a copy of The Old Man and the Sea when we were in the Caribbean because we visited the Island that inspired this novel. I think I read it in college but I can’t remember. I so agree, there are books that come to us just when we need them and others that just gather dust on the shelf. I haven’t been reading much over the last year, life has been too busy, or maybe I needed a break, but I back into the pages and enjoying the various writing styles as they inform my own. As far as travel is concerned that got waylaid with all the COVID restrictions, I do hope the world opens up before the window closes in my life. But I agree, at my age we have no time for regret! Hugs, C

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  3. Best sentence ever: This is as consequential as Spanx and just as confining.

    So much here to digest, but one random thought. I am a staff person at a university. I see faculty take sabbaticals but there is no option for staff. I think about this a lot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Sarah! Sorry for the delay, my response disappeared? What do I expect, it’s October! So glad someone likes my metaphors, they’re a little tight for most minds! Bahaha! I totally agree about the sabbaticals they should be available to everyone! Imagine a world were we all feel valued, rested, and energized to do our best work! Thanks so much for the comment, warmly, C

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  4. Hi Sarah, I’m ever so thankful that one person understood my Spanx metaphor, I was hesitant about leaving it in, but I thought why not? Who’s going to fire me, I’m retired! Glad this gave you some food for thought, hope you don’t get indigestion! And I totally agree, all workers should be given time off for a sabbatical periodically during the duration of their work life. They have such a better philosophy about taking long holidays and other cultures and I admire that. My son is currently living in Portugal and he was required to take three consecutive weeks off at a minimum and he’s not allowed to work for one minute during his holiday. He’s been hanging out in Italy for the last few weeks! Bei Tempi! All my best, C

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  5. OK I agree with all your feelings except that I am still standing in the kitchen with dishes to wash, preparing lunches and have grandkids to chauffeur around.” At 62 I am still waiting for retirement and I’m retired! I keep telling my husband to buy me an island! 🤣

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    1. Oh my goodness Diane, you crack me up! Maybe this pandemic has some merit, I mean your grandkids moved in, my grandkids moved in (temporarily), and I secretly enjoyed every minute (well, now that its over). You have too much energy for full retirement and besides I’d have nothing to cook if you stopped your blog! Here’s to non-retirements! Carry on…C

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  6. Wow, such intense interpersonal introspection Cheryl!
    Our lives all get soo much easier when we accept into the depths of our soul and own the fact that you, I, and everyone else on this rock are here for but one purpose: To prove our character to the power that created us.

    I state my case, which can be found embedded in Matthew, 22:36-40 (Jerusalem Bible, ‘Scholar’s Edition’ with margin notes).
    The key to fully understanding your own life is to ‘fully understand’ what it means to “love God” in the context as it is presented in this reading. Simple as that.

    P.S. If you don’t have a copy of this most splendid Catholic volume of the word of God, please let me know. I collect them and currently have over ten copies on hand, not including rare bindings, pristine untouched copies, and other assorted special versions of the Scholar’s Edition.
    Over the years I have been blessed to share this near-perfect representation/translation of the word of God with many other special people in my life, having gifted dozens of copies of the Scholars Edition to people in my life, as it is unquestionably the best translation of the original texts in existence.

    Cheers!
    CT

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    1. Hi Chris, you know, I was in one of those reflective moods, I had absolutely nothing to write about, so down went my thoughts onto the keyboard. I always enjoy your take on things and I agree the love and care we give to each other, especially when life is its most challenging, is all that is needed. Imagine if we all did just a little bit better? Let me just say, there wouldn’t be a run on toilet paper! Hugs, C

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  7. It’s funny you wrote this because I’m having a week, where nothing bad has happened at all, but I feel like I can’t catch my breath and I need a day just to sit in a chair and do nothing…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I blame the weather! It’s finally raining in California! A miracle in itself and all I want to do is sit by the fire and stare out the window. Just me, a cup of coffee, and my book. Heaven! I give you permission to do the same! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Leigh, you are exactly right, I’m out of rhythm! Hope it finds me soon! I’m starting to make lists of things I want or think I can do and I believe that’s a start in the right direction. I’m no longer confined to a set schedule, it’s as if they opened the cage and I forgot how to fly! Hugs, C

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  8. Hi Cheryl
    It’s been too long since I have commented (been way too busy.)
    Loved this. You used 2 successful hooks to cause me to rise from my writing stupor.
    First, Hemingway. Great author. One of my favorites. However, Old Man and the Sea is boring. I can see why you are having “retirement remorse.” I would to if I had to read that brutal book (saved only by being short.). If you want to love life, experience joy, and cram a lifetime of living into 3 days, go with For Whom the Bell Tolls.
    The other is the reference to “The Mote in thine brothers eye.” This is my favorite biblical quote.
    It could easily be applied to the madness that is today’s society in America.
    I agree we live in a repressive culture. I am glad that you are noting it and perhaps beginning to rebel against it. I think it is cool that the older I get the more I tend to not give a damn, and perhaps this spirit is starting to enrich your life.

    Love all your sea references in this post.
    Makes me yearn for the ocean life. Of course my reality of life at sea would be bored to tears in 3 weeks.
    So I give you my favorite sea song (well after the drunken sailor tune.)

    3 thoughts
    1. Sorry you read my Jewels of the West blog post before it was done.
    2. I am up for the vacation ideas. Portugal by bike sounds awesome. I suspect Europe won’t open till 2023. It may need to be a trip that includes the bikes with a motor for the uphill, as some of us are out of shape. Just saying
    3. We miss you all.

    Thanks again for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike! So good to hear from you. I’m very pleased to have stumbled on the needed hooks to roust you from your stupor! The Man and the Sea was a struggle for me to get through but I was inspired by the very waters I’d been floating in for a week and I felt obligated. I kept skipping the parts about bleeding hands and harrowing sharks. The ending was a little boney. I’ll have to revisit For Whom The Bell Tolls, it’s been a while. Unbeknownst to you and the reader, the underlying motivation for this post had to do with a conflict I was currently embroiled in, and my reference to that particular scripture was meant to annoy my adversary, aka, Larry. It was totally missed on him! Oh well, there’s always next week. I’ll return to the Jewels of the West as I wanted to make a few comments but got waylaid by the storm . It was luscious and drenching and just what we needed! Miss you all too, let’s keep brainstorming ideas, we’ll land on something! Hugs, Cheryl

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  9. C-WOW,…wow, wow. I’ve read this twice. I thank you for opening up your mind, heart, and soul to describe something I haven’t been able to describe. Like Sarah, I love the Spanx quote. And this one hit home too, “There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself” (Ann Patchett from The Dutch House). YOUR written last 3 paragraphs is full of wisdom, hope, and love. Your writing is exquisite. It’s so beautifully-weaved and littered with lushness, learning, and love. You’re legendary in your thoughts, C. To just be–that’s where you are. And everything good, from your past to the preparedness of tomorrow, is oozing out of you. I see it in your smile and face. You served education well. You’re serving life well. And you’re making a difference for folks like me. What a purpose! Much love and hugs to you! 💚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. K, can I just start out by saying I love you? I just read your comment several times over and every time it gives me the chills, puts a smile on my face, and reenergizes my a sense of purpose in the world. Thank you for your kind and generous words, ones that inspire me to be more honest, to keep writing, and not get discouraged by my own internal judgement and lack of accomplishment in the writing community. It can be daunting at times. I know you understand. Much love and hugs back to you my friend. Warmly, C

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  10. All three books sound absolutely wonderful. I really enjoyed what you said about us being afraid of our own thoughts because I genuinely feel that we often are. When I first started meditating and listening to my own thoughts I would get really anxious and it took me a while to adjust. I think that’s why we keep ourselves occupied with things like social media, YouTube etc. So that we don’t have to be alone with ourselves.

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    1. Hi Pooja, thank you for sharing your observations. I have dabbled in meditation and I’ve found it very difficult to quiet my thoughts, calm the anxiety, and rest in my own internal rhythm. It takes a lot of practice. And I totally agree most of our menial distractions allow us to ignore our own thoughts. Good things to consider when choosing how to spend our time. Hugs, C

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