It must be wonderful, I sometimes imagine, to live your whole life in a bucolic little village somewhere in the world. Old stone cottages dotting winding roads, rolling green hills, sheep grazing everywhere, plump and happy cows that wear bells, everyone knowing everyone else and everything about you (because they’ve known you since birth), right down to your favorite color (mine: teal). The sense of security, deep-rootedness, and belonging must be beautiful. It’s beyond my comprehension.
Next week I’ll be moving again. This will be, by my rough count, the twenty-third time I’ve changed residences since I left my family home in northern New Jersey when I was eighteen. My mother thought our suburban hometown was the center of the universe; I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to leave it. I remember having had vague dreams at that time of seeing the world – not just whizzing through on a tour bus or in a rental car but actually living in far-off places for years at a time and experiencing those places like a native. That dream, it appears, has pretty much come true.
After living here and there for the past many years, I’m now a legal, permanent resident of Mexico, and I’m deeply grateful to be here, with no intention of ever leaving. For the past four years I’ve been living happily in an affordable little studio apartment (which I’ve affectionately referred to as my “penthouse”), in a funky old apartment complex in San Miguel de Allende.
I’d thought, I’d hoped, my happiness in this place would last forever. The light, the western view (sunsets!), the peace and solitude, the birdsong, the good and kind Mexican people I’ve come to know nearby, the tiny geranium-and-bougainvillea-filled patio, the thirsty neighborhood hummingbirds that drink at my feeder from dawn to dusk year-round…
I remember Francisco, the manager of this complex, telling me when I moved in in June 2016, “Don’t worry, Bonnie. You will always be safe here. This is your home. We are family here.” But, sadly, this place is now for sale and will likely be demolished. I’ve had to find another lily pad.
So this week I’m packing up and downsizing once again: Giving things away, filling boxes, taping and labeling them, then stacking them high. My beloved “penthouse” looks like a warehouse now. It’s almost unrecognizable. I was sad when I knew I had to leave it. I cried for a day. Then I picked myself up, and, with the help of dear friends in SMA, found another small and affordable place across town.
Moving house is stressful at the best of times, but these (as I don’t need to tell you) are not the best of times. We are all, all over the world, I think, going through a time of great upheaval – experiencing tremendous pain, loss, anxiety, and uncertainty – due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. What does the future hold? Nobody knows. The peaceful, serene little village scene of my imagination seems like the stuff of fairy tales.
But one of the great benefits of having lived a long time (I’ll turn 75 soon) is the ability to look back and see where you’ve been, what you’ve been through, and what helped get you through it. One Shakespeare quote, from As You Like It, has always come to my rescue: “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head…”
That jewel, I believe, is wisdom. Difficulties are teachers that strive to teach us wisdom, and along with that, resilience. We’ll get through this — if we focus on that jewel — I’m sure. We must emulate nursery-rhyme Jack and “be nimble.”
I’m finding it helps right now to think of myself not as a contented old villager who waves benignly and knowingly to the occasional passerby but as an elderly frog who’s been hopping from lily pad to lily pad across a grand pond for most of her life. My twenty-third lily pad lies just ahead. Excuse me while I return to packing to move onto it.