Life seemed pretty much perfect in my 50s after I followed my own advice to simplify and follow my inner urgings.
Those urgings were: Get out of debt so you can afford to work fewer hours. Slow the pace of your life. And do something about that dream to live on a houseboat instead of just reading the classifieds!
So I gradually did it. It wasn’t easy. It meant stopping recreational shopping, risking that I’d no longer be “taken seriously” at the paper if I worked part-time (and eventually made it just three, 10-hour days!), and plunging into river life, which I knew nothing about it. I was scared, but as my friend Susan Jeffers advises, “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”
I sold the Southwest-style condo I loved in the West Hills and bought an adorable floating cottage on Sauvie Island in the Multnomah Channel. Left my TV and microwave ashore, savoring the currents of a simpler life filled with nature above and below. Drove just three times a week to the paper, where the usual office politics somehow no longer mattered. Started work on a book, RIVER THROUGH MY SOUL. Entertained friends more than I ever had before; others loved my new home almost as much as I did!
What I lacked, though, was a sweetheart. Even though I advised others about love, a good marriage seemed to be one thing I was somehow incapable of managing. I’d been married and divorced twice, and decided that men just drained my energy.
But for years I’d fanaticized about the darling Swedish doctor I’d loved 20 years before and lost track of. I began having dreams about him, and when we got a new computer system at work I dared to type in his name and see what happened. Back came a message that he’d browsing for me for months.
Wow, you can imagine how excited I was to learn we were both available and had reached much the same places in our lives. I surprised him a couple months later when he attended a medical conference in Denver by showing up there. We discovered nothing had changed between us, and several months later he flew me to Sweden to meet his children and mother. My life had changed forever…
Yes, it was wrenching to sell my houseboat, bid my column fans farewell and wave goodbye to my understanding kids and grandkids. Before I actually moved to Sweden, we cruised the Nile in Egypt and trysted in Tanzania, where he’d worked for years doing HIV/AIDS research. There, I took another risk when I accepted a teacher’s invitation out to her village school – a handful of pre-schoolers in her three-room home. I vowed to help her build a real school, which we did with donations from both weddings. The kids called me “bibi,” Kiswahili for gramma, and Fatuma named the school for me. It grew to include more than 200 students pre-school through 7th grade. As I discovered other needs there, I created more programs: GRANDMA-2-GRANDMA to help the many grandmothers whose adult children had died of AIDS and were thus raising their grandkids, a bibi house for the families with nowhere to live, a bibi farm so they could raise crops and critters for food and profit, a SMART GIRLS club to keep pre-teen girls safe/healthy/motivated. All this was accomplished because I held out my hand for money from generous people wherever I went.
Many times I’ve felt as if I’ve stepped into the pages of National Geographic. When people ask how many grandchildren I have, I answer, “Eight American, almost six Swedish, and more than 200 Tanzanian!”
My world expanded further: China. Thailand. The Philippines. Zanzibar. Mozambique. Most of Europe.
And then there’s Sweden. I took a kindergarten-level language class for newcomers, which managed to chase the Spanish out of my head but left me less blank-looking at parties. I discovered that one has to live outside one’s culture to understand it – both it attributes and deficiencies. Happily, I learned that love can be energizing rather than draining. Eventually, my kids and most of my grandkids came to visit, and my worlds became more integrated. But as I grew to love Eric’s children and the Swedish grandkids, it seemed the only place where I didn’t feel torn in half was mid-way over the Atlantic!
Never could I have imagined my life unfolding as it has!
For too many years I listened to what other people thought I should think and do. As I matured, what I thought of myself, what I wanted, mattered more than what others did: parents, editors, friends, etc. I believe that voice deep inside us is who we truly are: That crazy-sounding, yet insistent little voice that says, “You don’t want to be a lawyer, you really want to run a cake shop.” “You don’t really want to remain in this relationship, you’re just afraid no one else will ever love you.” “You don’t want to finish this degree, you want to bum around the world.”
I recall interviewing Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled. When I asked how we knew which clamoring voice inside our heads was the one to heed, he advised it was inevitably the path which demanded something of us, which felt a little frightening. I think he’s right.
In my third and fourth books, Home Sweeter Home and Love Sweeter Love (mostly RELATING columns), we dealt with some of these issues. In my new Where Love Leads Trilogy, the advice I’ve heard from the experts and the daring to follow my dreams comes to fruition. River Through My Soul chronicles the new life on the water and discovering Eric again. The School That Love Built captures the African adventures. And Love Refugee pokes a little fun at surviving among the slender Swedes!
And I hope they might help you to follow your heart…
Find books at https://www.amazon.com/author/findjannbooks
Learn about Bibi Jann at bibijannhelps.blogspot.com