Why in the World?
“If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane.”
– Kate Winslet
Yes indeed, many people have asked me the question. In fact, I have asked myself the question. My wife and I have even asked each other the question, on more than a few occasions. Go ahead, you know you want to ask.
The question, or some iteration of the question is, “Why in the world did you move all the way to Africa from the beautiful Pacific Northwest corner of the United States to continue to work in education?”
The answer to that question, as you can well imagine, is not a simple one. If I hope to be anywhere in the normal range on the mental health spectrum, it would have to be at least somewhat complex.
The best way I can think to describe it is that a confluence (or possibly a collision) of many factors all converged on us in a very short period. Timing and circumstances just came together. As it turns out (and I have heard similar occurrences in the stories of others), Amanda and I were experiencing parallel thoughts that went without vocalization for weeks, maybe even months. It’s possible that each of us was embarrassed to say aloud that we were feeling a lack of fulfillment for fear that the other might think it had to do with them. Or maybe it was because together we had built our own small version of the “American Dream” and felt ashamed or ungrateful.
Sure, routine has its comforts. Being a little bit past mid-career as educators allowed us nice standard of living. As educators we were able to enjoy breaks with the kids when they were out of school. The house we owned was large and located in a very safe neighborhood. Did I mention that we had one newer, financed car and one older but paid for vehicle? Sound typical?
Following this familiar pattern that many middle class Americans seem to slip into, every time we paid off a car, we would decide to trade in the older car and finance another newer car. If we wanted something (a new bedroom set, for example) and didn’t have the disposable cash to buy it, we would look for one of those very alluring and brilliantly marketed “no interest for a year” financing plans. Because of our love of travel, we often put vacations on the credit card without regard to the extra money we paid out for interest, rationalizing that we deserved it because, well, naturally, we worked very hard. Besides, we always exceeded the minimum payments to limit the amount of interest we paid. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, right?
Remember that nice house I mentioned above? This particular house happened to be one that we moved to from a house we had spent 2 years remodeling ourselves. The old house honestly had plenty of room for us, so it was more a “want” to move rather than a “need” to move. Because the new house was only a few miles from the old house and the loan closed in May (as I recall), we moved over a weekend. During the busiest time of the school year, it was all we could do to get everything packed into boxes haul them over to the new place and throw them in. After all, there was plenty of space. No need to make choices about what we actually needed or even used. Big garage, extra rooms, lots of storage . . . Bring it on. We’ll go through it later.
All of this of course meant that we now had a larger mortgage and higher utility and property taxes. Thanks to Amanda, our family bill manager, we were never late on any payments. But as the years went by and the novelty began to wear off (as it always does), a new dawn began to arise for each of us. This new reality was that what we thought of us the American Dream was beginning to appear more like a nightmare than a wonderful fantasy. Starting as a nagging annoyance, our situation slowly but certainly festered into a dreaded haunting. When it finally came out in the open and Amanda and I addressed it, the relief was nothing less than ecstatic. We agreed that something . . . NO . . . . not just something . . . . many things had to change.
“Is he ever going to get to the point”, you ask? The answer is yes – I promise – but to cut directly to the chase (as they say) would imply that it we were able to follow a simple, linear set of steps leading to a logical conclusion. Not only would that be untrue, it would fail to honor the process. Our story is of course all about the process, not the outcome.