Why I Did It (Part 1)

Dear Friends,

As the New Year is upon us, and we all do a cheshbon nefesh (self accounting of one’s deeds), I have to say that I have been doing a cheshbon nefesh almost non-stop for the past several years. The tragedy of Alzheimers that struck my mother a’h forced me to reevaluate my own life, and wonder with great perplexity about the meaning of life, and even question the purpose of a greatly diminished life.

I tried to take care of my mother (and mother-in-law); many people have said that they admire me for this. Every time I heard this, I shuddered inwardly! Truthfully, in most ways I failed her and myself and my family, and I am well aware of it. But beyond the day-to-day details, the utter terror of possibility that this could happen to me or to my husband as we age left me despondent. Every time my husband or I would have a “senior moment” it was hard to laugh it off, because the first thought was, “do I have the beginnings of Alzheimers?” and all the weighty consequences that went along with that possibility.

Many events small and large scared me. It wasn’t simply forgetting where I had placed my keys. Despite trying to find a landmark to aid my memory, I could not find my car in the parking lot after exiting a store. I could not remember events of the previous day. I could not finish a task I had started. I began to wonder if I was fit to take care of my grandchildren responsibly. If I started a creative project, the smallest interruption in my focus meant that my muse was forever gone. I felt constantly overwhelmed by just about anything.

But here is something truly remarkable: my memory was never impaired whenever I went away to the White Mountains in New Hampshire/Maine. I had no trouble finding my way and back again, even on the smallest of country dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. I was able to start tasks and see them to completion. Details were clear in my head. I felt more energetic and generally healthier.

When the human body is under stress, cortisol is produced in the brain. Too much cortisol leads to memory loss. That is why when someone has gone through a traumatic experience, be it combat or even childbirth, we tend to wipe out many of the bad memories, or have selective memory about the experience. Fortunately, most of us do not suffer distress for extensive, continuous periods of time, and memory loss is usually recoverable or reparable. Studies of military personnel found that if gross amounts of cortisol are produced under stressful conditions for lengthy periods of time, that memory loss may not always be recoverable, and may, in fact, be permanent!

What I am trying to say is, I need an extended break from my current environment – – a refuas hanefesh. I am very very blessed to have the ability to do so, due to an understanding and supportive spouse, who is fortunate to have a job that allows him to be mobile. I have consulted with a rav who has given me his blessing to embark on this change, in the environment I have chosen.

Consequently, I will be moving with my husband to the White Mountains for an extended period of time. We will return to our “home town” for Jewish holidays, but mostly we will be up North, and we will live up there through the winter. The utter quiet, tranquility, and peace amid nature have allowed both my husband and me to reenergize ourselves and our marriage, and become more productive creatively and professionally. Although we are indeed lacking in terms of proximity to a kehillah (Jewish community) my husband continues to “attend” his shiurim via telephone and the internet, and my feeling of a spiritual connection to HaShem has increased. We are living consciously and conscientiously with fewer material needs – or wants. We use and sense time differently.

So please indulge us as we attempt this grand experiment in self-sufficiency and our search in making what may be the twilight of our productive lives more meaningful. And please, try not to judge us harshly for what may appear to be impulsive and irresponsible behavior. Ironically, we are in our own way trying to take responsibility for this time in our lives and make something of it, before it is too late and we chas v’shalom must depend exclusively on others for even our most basic needs.

Kol Tuv,

Midlife In Maine

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11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Betty on October 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I salute you for the courage and self-awareness to take this amazing step. It’s an honor to be able to follow you, via the blog, in your journey. All best wishes, continued strength and health as you move forward and inspire the rest of us. Kol tov – Betty

    Reply

  2. Posted by Ellen on October 19, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    My sister forwarded this to me. I am in the midst of my own much smaller mid-life move and facing a great deal of anger and shame from my dad who does not understand my choice. I simply am unable to make him understand why my heart leaps when I enter the canyon, or what is so appealing to me about a very simple home surrounded by wild, living things.

    In the past several years, I have made two (physical) journeys that gave me the courage to start major transformations. The first was a brief trip to Israel (for work). In perhaps a metaphoric but still very visceral way, there was a part of me that was set free and that I could not stuff back into my suitcase for the trip home. The result a couple of years later was the end of an unhealthy and unhappy marriage. The second journey was to Martha’s Vineyard last summer. Returning to LA, I could no longer ignore my longing for a different way of life.

    Of course, all things come to pass in G-d’s time, and G-d’s way, and while I wait for the universe to sort out the logistics of the move, I am limbo, and prey to adopting my dad’s doubts as my own. Your blog has inspired me to keep moving forward; whatever I may lose along the way, there will be much to be gained, I am sure. As some of my friends say, whenever G-d closes a door, He opens a window.

    All the best. I will keep following your adventure.

    Reply

  3. Welcome to Maine! Or perhaps I should be asking you to welcome me to Maine. My lady and I just arrived here in November of 2013 and have already fallen in love with the state. And we haven’t even been many places yet because of all the snow this Winter.
    I was searching for “Maine Mud Season” pictures and your blog appeared in the results. I appreciate your writing and think I may become one of your followers. You are quite insightful and your book list is stunningly interesting. I was actually looking for books that have to do with our state not too long ago. I gave up my search too early, so I’m sure your list will help in that department.
    Looking forward to more posts! Keep writing and enjoy the Spring.
    Jay
    PS – I’m leaving my blog link in this comment. Please feel free to read about our adventures in Maine so far. They begin in November 2013 (under the “Archives” in the right column).
    http://www.jaygaulard.com

    Reply

    • I highly suggest visiting a rural Maine library…they will have a section on Maine books…the more rural the library the older (and more interesting) the collection.

      Reply

  4. […] way to the Maine woods. You can read the letter from the author to her friends here on the “Why I Did It” page and even learn more about her on the “About” page. I’m going to be […]

    Reply

  5. Posted by ruth on January 30, 2015 at 12:46 am

    I am commenting as I sit near our roaring Vermont Bun Baker wood stove and by the light of our Joi lights powered by tea lights, in Downeast Maine; rationing the solar energy from our array in the deep chill of a January in Maine as we prepare for yet more snow. Have just found your blog and wonderful entries and feel as though I have discovered like minded mishpuchah. Working and now living full time in Downeast Maine off grid, off road.
    Will be interested to follow your wonderful similar adventures. I am also involved in bringing books to the lives of children, so am excited to see your book suggestions, many of which I have found already on our local library shelves (the Maine focused books)
    I would be very interested in connecting with any fellow jewish rusticators along the upper coast of Maine!

    Reply

  6. I find your blog to be most amusing. You mention in another periodical that you simply had to get away ” from all the corruption”. A corruption so terrible and all pervasive, that you felt the need to abscond to the wilds of the Maine backwoods, yet not so bad that you stayed all those years presumably ” for your family” ( in another words, you had no problem participating in and playing all of the usual social climbing games of corrupt evildoers, to advance you and your families social status). I wonder why you chose not to stay and fight this corruption you speak of to make your community a better place for those who couldn’t play the game and were socially ostracized as a result.

    Reply

    • Wow you sound angry and bitter! It isnt always possible to change a system despite one’s best efforts. So one can put up and shut up or choose to live in another place. Most of my married kids are mostly happy in my home town. Those who weren’t opted to live elsewhere although not in Maine.We chose not only a different place, but a different lifestyle. Social climbing was never my thing anyplace anywhere.
      I hope you’ve found your place in life too, John.

      Reply

  7. Posted by ashleypozefskyadams on July 1, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    So you’re a Jew in the White Mountains? What a wonderful blogger. I am here with my wife and we just celebrated our Shabbat with two bass I caught and cleaned. I was just wondering as we lit the candles and had our wine and bread and fish whether there were any other Jews Ari nd here. We are on Heald Pond in Stoneham.

    Reply

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