Few things have the power to drive a person as crazy as a move … and a long-distance move has the kind of crazy-making power that most other life events can only dream of possessing. As a friend reminded me this week, in the list of major life stressors, moving makes the top three; it's right up there with death of a loved one and divorce. It's no wonder, then, that every little thing seems to elicit more stress than usual for me this week. As I type, my husband and I are preparing to begin a three-day move to a small town in Alabama. Starting tomorrow, we'll be driving away from five years in the same Washington, DC neighborhood and starting a new chapter in our story. We're moving into a home we own in Alabama. We've never lived there together, however, since we met and fell in love at L'Arche DC (a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities share life together).
Why the decision to move? Both of us have started our own businesses this year; mine is in writing and web copywriting, and my husband's is in web hosting and remote technical support. As such, we've decided to relocate from the big city to a small town in order to live more simply and enjoy more time together. (Ironically, it takes a big, complicated process to arrive at that simpler life!) As I wrote in a recent A Wish Come Clear post, “Everything [is] in transit, everything [is] in flux. For a couple who likes their daily routines, this is a destabilizing prospect.”
Destabilizing indeed … and that word makes me think of my brother Willie, and how important his daily life routines are to him. As my husband and I go into moving mode, I realize that even small changes to Willie's regular routine may make him feel the way I am feeling now: disoriented, displaced, and generally distressed. My husband's family moved many times in the course of his childhood; my family, by contrast, moved just once, when I was less than a year old. My brother has lived in the same house for his entire life, and at this moment, I cannot help but wonder if that is no coincidence. I wonder if, perhaps, my parents wanted to spare him—and me—the generalized chaos that's caused by a move.
I also find myself struggling with feelings of over-reactivity this week; the slightest unexpected change in my schedule sends me reeling. Even though I know better than to give into it, there's still an irrational sense of panic dogging my heels. I wonder, Is this what Willie feels like before he has a major meltdown? As moving day draws near, I coach myself with the self-soothing techniques that work for my brother. I'm taking deep breaths, and reminding myself that, in the long run, small mistakes and miscalculations are, “No big deal.” (In short order, I think I'll need a rug to roll up in; the sense of calming pressure that comes from Willie's technique sounds pretty good to me right about now.)
Rationally, I realize that everything will get done and that, as minimalists, my husband and I are actually more prepared for this big move than most. And there's also a fierce excitement running through my veins, the kind that makes it hard to fall asleep at night. There's a feeling of imminent adventure, a freedom found in letting go and starting over.
And that's the beautiful gift within the stress of our move: the ability to understand what it might be like to experience life as Willie does. To gain empathy for his need for structure and admiration for his courage when he faces change. We learn by going, after all, and this move is teaching me compassion, for myself and for my brother. I remember the words I wrote in a recent feature on Extreme Sports Camp: “I wonder if, despite the fact that Willie loves routine, such an experience of exploration might be just what he needs.” I wonder if it might not be the same for me.