I am flying west to New York, stretching five bonus hours out of this bonus Leap day. This flight marks the end of my sabbatical from responsibility, and I am glad to have the privacy to absorb it. Tonight I see my Canadian sweetheart and my Brooklyn pals again. Tomorrow I start work.
Some friends are disappointed that I seem to be sliding back into the slot I left. They feel stifled in their own lives, maybe, and enjoyed my freedom vicariously. What’s the point of time out, they ask me, if you don’t make radical changes afterwards?
I understand their sense of betrayal. My new job is broadly similar to the one I left, and I’ll be living close to my old neighbourhood, seeing my old friends. But the changes are inside. This expanse of time and experiences has shaped me more than a token career or city shift could reflect. I had a privilege that is rarer than a college education, and, to my thinking, more valuable.
(It is very hard to write about this without sounding painfully earnest and possibly sick-making.)
I had the time to grieve a husband who is still dear to me, and to count the million billion mistakes I made.
I learned how to be by myself, and see for myself.
I learned how to sit still. I am bad at it.
I made friends from different lives. There are so many fine people out there.
I discovered how little I need to live happily. Fancy dinners and toys are no longer on the list. Nor is running water, if the lake is clean.
I learned how to pretend to be brave, which is nearly as good as courage.
I saw different ways of bringing up children, and I hope to make bolder mothering mistakes than indoor, anxious cossetting.
I visited old and new friends on two continents, and atoned for years of putting office work before them.
I fell in love.
I made up with Ireland. Now I have a place to miss, and go back to.
I had the time to read hard books.
I started to pay attention to politics and freedom.
I lost my puppyish infatuation with America. (But I still heart New York.)
I learned to be an ounce less than completely selfish. (Occasionally. When it suits me.)
I got to know my parents as an adult. I finally grasped that their lives as teachers are more valuable than any CEO’s.
I made memories of Lake Superior that that will feed me when I’m old.
I felt, first-hand, compassion, grief, love, outrage, anger, and gratitude.
I got the chance to write.
I faced some fears.
I found I had an untold number of assumptions and prejudices. Many more lurk, still invisible to me.
I learned how to trust people to be kind. They mostly are.
I learned that atoms trump bits. Nothing beats face-to-face contact, which is why babies don’t IM.
I accepted that I’ll never be wealthy. It still scares me, especially in America.
I earned some crows’ feet, and the conviction not to Botox them.
Somewhere along the way I woke up as a grown woman.
I want to find a way be a net contributor.
And oh, I will miss my freedom dreadfully. I will miss the space to read and write and think and talk. But we’re over Newfoundland, and a new life waits.