As you look ahead, do you prefer hunkering down in the familiar or opening to the “new"? Read Jennifer Grant’s challenge to us all.
Look for the New
By Jennifer Grant
My literary agent lives in sunny Arizona. Last December, when he received my change of address postcard, he shot me a quick email.
"You're moving into Chicago? Voluntarily?"
He wasn't the only one to express surprise. Moving to the city—after almost 25 years in a bucolic suburb an hour west of it—and to move in early January and in the midst of a global pandemic wasn't, as they say, "trending." The moving company, for instance, gave us a deal and were very flexible with their terms, disclosing that it was an unusual time of year to relocate. They admitted they had a lot of time on their hands.
"Also, you know," the sales rep said, his voice dropping almost into a whisper, "most people are going the other direction."
So why this move?
Let me start by rewinding to about five years before that gray January day. I'm sitting at my kitchen counter talking with a dear friend. We're lingering, having a good long chat about our lives and careers and marriages. At one point, she speaks a few words that—unbeknownst to her—lodge themselves into my mind like a jagged splinter. For weeks afterward, I'll return to what she said, tugging at her words, working out my feelings about them. My friend, then in her early forties, mentions that she doesn't much enjoy visiting her parents' house. She loves them, she explains, but says that the house she grew up in has been transformed into "a memory museum."
A memory museum.
She described decades' old watercolor paintings, construction paper canvases rippled and curling from age, hanging from magnets on the fridge. The kids' bedrooms look exactly as they did when the four of them, one by one, left for college. When she and her husband and kids visit the house, my friends' parents begin most conversations with, "Remember when ..."
As my own children, one by one, began to leave home for college, I recognized myself in my friend's story. I'd drive past the park where I often took my young kids and felt bathed in a kind of melancholy nostalgia. Wheeling my cart past the aquarium at the front of the grocery store, I remembered stopping to watch the tropical fish with them. That kitchen counter where we rolled out pizza dough or Christmas cookies or did messy projects for school was rife with emotion for me. I knew memories of the impossible and painful (Dare I say "awful"?) moments of family life were receding and fading with time.
I knew I didn't want to live in a memory museum but instead wanted to move on and to embrace this new part of my life. I wanted midlife to be generative, creative years—not ones marked only by memories. Also, cities energize me. For the last decade or so, when I've taken the train into the city to meet a client or editor or friend, my heart quickens when the skyrises loom. I feel at once excited and calmed. At home.
We all have places—whether rural or urban or suburban—that feel that way. Places that incite our curiosity, make us want to explore, and make us feel deeply like we are just in the right place. And, in midlife, it's more than okay to look for new things and to embrace them if we've been elsewhere for a while.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Isaiah 43: 18-19. In Eugene Peterson's wonderful paraphrase in The Message, these words are:
“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?"
So, as I head toward my mid-fifties, in my new neighborhood, in my new locale, I look for it. I look for what's brand-new. And I am grateful for the chance to stop ruminating or making my life into a memory museum. I want God's Spirit to burst out into my life and do something new.
Jennifer Grant is the author of several books for adults and for children, including Maybe God Is Like That Too and Love You More. Her latest releases are Once Upon a Time Not So Long Ago, a picture book about the pandemic, and Dimming the Day, a book of evening meditations on the natural world. Connect with her online at jennifergrant.com.