"How can you leave?" my friends and colleagues asked. "You built this not-for-profit from scratch. This is your vision, your dream."
They're right. I ask myself how can I walk away from the flower of my efforts. For more than 13 years I have nurtured relationships, honed skills, and made a difference.
My husband, a pediactric orthopaedic surgeon, is asked similar questions: "How can you leave your patients?" Or, more surprisingly, "how can you leave the institution of medicine and the status you have in the system? How can you become just an average person?"
Then there are the implied, unspoken questions. You can see these questions in people's eyes in that moment when people are most baffeled and at a loss for words. Questions linger in the air, like: how can you sell your georgious lake house--the one you so proudly designed and built--and "buy down" to a modest midwestern ranch-style home? How can you possibly live on a fraction of the income to which you have been accustomed? How can you retire in this uncertain economy?
The saddest and most troubling question, one people struggle to voice, is the one that is most difficult to answer: "how can you leave me when I have come to depend upon your friendship?" Those are the questions that wrench at the heart.
Dave and I have spoken at length about our decision to move aboard a sailboat and venture off. In some respects, our decision to retire and relocate is ordinary; many people reach a time in their lives when they are called to sunnier climates and a life of increased leisure. In our case, however, it was unexpected by all. We made the decision in the prime of our careers. We were both "in the middle" of wonderful and rewarding lives. Having accomplished the American dream of a big home, fast cars, two dogs, and two healthy, successful children stretching their wings in college. How could we want for anything more?
In many ways, we left because we were happy. Lulled into a life of habit and routine, we found ourselves living rewarding but parallel lives. Our paths crossed at predictible times of day. Our conversations centered around important but comfortable topics. Even our stresses followed tiresome and well-worn patterns.
One day nearly two years ago, Dave came home from work and told me that it was financially possible for him to retire at 55. To top that, he said that he wanted to spend his retirement with me. He wanted to do something together, something that we couldn't accomplish seperately, and he wanted it to be challenging and rewarding for both of us. For us, our pre-wedding dream of sailing around the world was a logical choice.
I was profoundly flattered. My husband was in essence proposing to me all over again. The idea of committing anew--after more than twenty-five years of friendship--was beyond romantic. The possibility of shaping a new life together evoked all the hope and promise of youth. Suddenly, a treasured and time-tested love affair was refreshed with that "new car smell."
That's how we can leave. That's how we can disassemble the things in our material lives and live on a fraction of our income. That's how we can walk away from rewarding but all-consuming jobs. That's how we can start from scratch and earn a foreign set of skills that constantly challenge and humble. And because our first committment is to each other, that's how we can--for the moment--seperate ourselves from our closest friends. We are confident that our dearest friends will understand, be happy for us, come and visit, and be there when we return.
Adventures of Wild Hair is a tale of extraordinary love and romance.