Recently, I was having a lovely lunch with three close friends, outdoors at The New Leaf Café, in Fort Tryon Park, New York, when one of the women announced that she and her husband were planning to sell their place near us and move into a retirement community down south. We all paused in our eating. There was a moment of silence before we congratulated her and began asking questions. We have been together, the four of us, for almost 15 years, meeting at least monthly to discuss a memoir we had read and to share the intimacies of our lives through writing. We are all headed toward 80 and the topic of retirement communities was not a new one. Still, as I looked across the table at my dear friend, I felt tears welling.
She saw her move, she said, as a new beginning. She looked forward to a new place to live, she explained, to making new friends, to creating memories of good times with her husband. I thought about her phrase, “New Beginning.” It is not redundant, I decided. I have embraced many beginnings in my life, each one filled with that same sense of promise.
The early spring day almost twenty years ago that Rosemary and I first visited our new house in Maine was a sunny one, and our dog, Murphy, ran excitedly from bush to door to tree, eagerly sniffing out her understanding of the place. I felt the way Murphy was acting, my senses trying to absorb it all at once. We had a contract on the house and we were there for the inspection, but this was our first chance to really absorb what we were about to buy. We had seen the place once, briefly, at the end of a rather long day when the real estate agent had taken us to several houses in the area. “We are just looking,” we had told her. “We want to get an idea of what is available.”
I had known from almost the first moment that this house would be our choice; I often have premonitions like this. In fact, I had picked this place out from the black and white photos Rosemary and I had poured over ahead of time. The little house on Parker Pond was at the top of my list of choices, even though I couldn’t tell from the photo that it was even near the water.
After the real estate visit, we had returned to our home in New York and called friends in Maine, asking them to see what they thought of the place. They concurred; it looked like a solid and wonderful house.
“I like it!” I told Rosemary. “I think we should buy it.”
“But we were just looking,” she tried, gently, to rein me back in. “We said we wouldn’t buy until we were ready.”
“I’m ready!” And, being the loving companion that she is, we moved forward.
Then, the day came and we were there, alone, and the house seemed even more perfect than I had remembered. The ice was still on the lake, and there were piles of snow here and there, but it was mid-March and I could smell spring. It was quiet; most of the houses on the lake were seasonal, and those on either side were still empty. It was too early for leaves on the trees, so we could look through the branches and see the neighboring houses in a way that we wouldn’t be able to later in the season. A raft and an aluminum boat were pulled up on the lake side of our new property.
We were buying the house furnished, and the present owners still had some personal belongings that they hadn’t moved, but when we walked through the house, I saw it as ours. I saw the meals with friends we would have on the screened porch, the fifteen years of swimming and kayaking that would be ours, the gardens I would plant, the glow of the burning wood in the fireplace we would sit in front of in winter months. We had a grandson who had just turned one, and I saw him playing on the beach. The bedroom that would be ours looked down over the lake, and the mornings of waking to the sun rising across the lake floated before me. The promise of the upcoming era of our lives was everywhere. Rosemary was taking pictures and each time we looked at each other, we both just smiled.
So, my friend, the one who was planning to start anew in a retirement community, was wise to take her next step with the same sense of power that we felt that day. Being able to write our own future, at any age, is important.
Once, when I was much younger, back before Rosemary and I were a couple–when we were friends who worked together–we had the task of packing up our office in the state welfare department and moving to a new location on a different floor. A few of us from the unit had been packing for a couple of days and, on the day of the actual move, had stayed quite late, trying to make sure things were in place when the staff came in the next morning. Rosemary was still there when I left.
While we were technically employees of the welfare office, our little group saw our task as changing the system, making it friendlier and more functional for those who used its services. One of our group, if you asked her what she did for work, said she worked on improving economic issues for women. We were a rather unusual group inside the state system, working, as they say, in the belly of the beast. We were change agents and very dedicated to our task.
I went in early the next morning, before anyone else had arrived, to put some finishing touches on our work of the previous day. The office was dark, but a few rays of the early morning sun was coming in through the window and they landed squarely on the center of my new desk. There, in the middle, was a quote that had been cut out of some paper, surrounded by scattered confetti of stars and moons. I knew that it was the work of my friend Rosemary. The quote was from Thomas Paine and said, “A New Beginning: We have it in our power to begin the world all over again.”
I have always loved beginnings. For those of you familiar with Myers-Briggs, I am an off-the-chart P, meaning I thrive on possibility, and beginnings are full of possibilities. So, I gave my friend my blessing and took from her the reminder that we are never too old to start again, to commit to a new beginning. I expect to have a few more in my life, and I want to face each one with a belief in possibility that will carry me through, right up until death – the last new beginning that I will face in this lifetime.