I led the way up Route 15. The 26-foot UHaul I was driving felt like a lunar module bouncing and heaving on the road, and I could hear some of the contents creak and sway in the back. The headlights threw a beam into the night, and I followed it north.
Then I remembered a quote that Anne Lamott uses in her book Bird By Bird. It’s actually a quote by another writer, E. L. Doctorow, and it goes something like this: “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I think something started to shift inside of me on that drive. I began to realize (just a seed of understanding that had a lot of growing to do) that my perspective on this move would shape my entire life. I could look at this event as a failure, a disaster, and our move as a sort of retreat from the battles of life . . . OR I could see it as an opportunity to try something that I always wanted to try, an opportunity to live out my identity.
I could try to make my living as a writer. Maile and I could see this new direction in our life as a chance to scale back, simplify our lives, get rid of debt, get out of the cycle of materialism. Why not use my limited amount of time on earth to do what I wanted to do! I didn’t have to jump back on the ladder or the treadmill. I didn’t have to go back to the grind – use whatever metaphor you want. I didn’t have to try to use my life to create as much wealth as possible just so that I could live as comfortably as possible.
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me: I had spent ten years – TEN YEARS!!! – working as an employee or trying to run my own business, doing things I wasn’t passionate about, and where had it gotten me? Stressed out, weighed down by debt, enslaved to the system. If we’re not going to have any money, wouldn’t I at least rather be a writer?
Anne Lamott’s father once wrote that “a life dedicated to leisure is, in the end, a life oriented to death, the greatest leisure of all.” What was I dedicating my life to, apart from some pie-in-the-sky retirement when I would have enough money to do what I wanted to do? Why not do it now? Why not make it happen, work odd jobs if I had to?
Maile and I talked to each other on our cell phones almost the whole way to Lancaster, and the rain poured down. We talked about how sad we were to be leaving, how strange it would be to live in Lancaster. But we also talked about how exciting it would be for me to try to make it as a writer, how great it would be to live in a place so oriented around community and family. I realized I never would have been able to do this without someone like Maile, someone who supported me and was up for an adventure, someone who didn’t care if we didn’t have loads of money for her to buy new clothes and have a nice vehicle and live in a huge place. Someone who didn’t mind moving into my parent’s basement for an undetermined amount of time.
I started to see how God had blessed me with this opportunity. Then I started to see how he blessed us with a business in Virginia that wasn’t doing well enough to support us. He even blessed us with debt. Did you know that bad things can be a blessing? Because without both of these things, we would never have had the courage to make this choice. He knew that, in this case, he almost had to make the choice an inevitable one for us, or we never would have left Virginia.
I kept driving. The night was still dark. God didn’t suddenly have someone call me and say they’d pay me $50,000 to write their book. I didn’t have a miraculous email from a publisher offering me a 5-book, 6-figure deal.
The sun didn’t miraculously rise at night.
But my headlights were still lighting up the road.
And for that night, and that journey, it was enough. We could make the whole trip that way.
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