I’ve been thinking a lot about my answer to the question of why we moved to Milwaukee. I’m asked this question a lot, and my response is always the same: “Life is an adventure,” I say, a tidy offering that is usually met with the barest hint of skepticism. It never seems to be quite enough of an explanation, which I suppose has to do with the fact that it is always a follow-up to the bit about my husband wanting to return home. The story of his motivation is clear and easy to digest, while mine is broad, vague and also, perhaps, a little too shiny.
Still, I carry on the the same way from one conversation to another. As if engraved in gold on a luxurious, cream-colored calling card, I pass out these words like a mantra, as if to say, “This is who I am, and this is all you need to know about me.”
Let me back up.
Earlier this year, my husband and I decided to move from Santa Barbara, California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After discussing the possibility for many months, we began a process without a specific timeline. With so many uncontrollable variables at play - namely when our house in Santa Barbara would sell and how quickly we’d be able to find a new one in Milwaukee - we set forth on our endeavor unattached to how it would all fall into place in our calendar. “It will either happen really quickly or it could take more than a year,” we reasoned. More than wanting to push through and make things happen on an arbitrary schedule of our own devising, which would likely only serve to create frustration and stress, our goal was to trust the process. One step would be taken, and then our work was to wait and see where we were pointed to next.
Turns out it all happened almost faster than we - or our family and friends in southern California - could handle. We received an offer on our house within four days of the announcement of our listing, flew to Milwaukee the next day, and made an offer on a house less than a week later. (My husband and I are primarily not known for being indecisive.) Once escrows were finalized, contingencies lifted, and a move date set, everyone swung into action. In between packing and organizing, a series of visits, lunch dates, and dinner parties were planned to squeeze in as much time with our loved ones as possible before we pulled out of our driveway and headed east on June 21st.
I know, I know - you wondering why, right? I mean, who in their right mind would leave the year-round sunny-and-72 climate, the palm trees, the easy access to wide beaches populated by dolphins in exchange for things like winter? It is the question we get every time we mention our relocation: “Why?” Everyone wants to know what led us to act on such a harebrained idea.
Me: “We just moved from Santa Barbara to Milwaukee.”
Me: “My husband grew up in Milwaukee, and he decided it was time to come home.”
A look of recognition, an understanding. Everyone gets this, and there’s nothing to explain.
And then - a pointed look at me: “And how do you feel about this?”
Me: “Life is an adventure!”
I don’t say it with undue enthusiasm. This isn’t an act of putting a smiley face sticker on my face in order to mask simmering resentments. I mean it sincerely. It is the real reason I decided to jump on board my husband’s deep longing to return to the place he sees as his true home. “I believe life is an adventure,” I say, “So here we are.”
Back to my original point - about why that has become my go-to response, and what it really means. When I say “Life is an adventure,” what is that about? How is this expressed in ways that don’t involve cardboard boxes, packing tape, and having to say good-bye to a life built over the past twenty-two years?
Let me be clear: I am neither an adrenalin junkie nor am I noted for any meaningful level of daredevilry. I’ve never bungie jumped, I’m not SCUBA certified, and one of my favorite things to do is go to bed before 9:00pm. I am afraid of the dark. I am afraid of the dentist. It’s true I’ve gone snorkeling with sharks, but they were lemon sharks - more afraid of me than me of them - in a somewhat controlled environment on a resort dive in Bora Bora.
Living a life rooted in the belief that it is an adventure - something to be tackled, gathered up and devoured - has looked like a lot of different things at different moments, not all of which are necessarily pretty or Instagram-worthy. My desire to live life to the fullest has rewarded me with a wide gamut of human experiences and emotions - success in business, failure in relationships, journeys to foreign countries - but it usually ends up being the quieter, more intimate moments that make me feel like I’m being taken on the wildest, most exhilarating ride.
Someone asked me this summer what the highest high and the lowest low of this year has been, and my answer was that they were one and the same. It was the last 24 hours my husband and I were in Santa Barbara. During that time, in between packing up the last boxes and trying to get everything labeled before the movers hauled them off, all of our closest friends and family stopped by our house to say goodbye and wish us well. We were all incredibly sad (just because we are the ones who made the decision to move doesn’t mean we aren’t devastated at the thought of leaving our people), and there were so many tears, but it was also one of the sweetest, most blissful episodes of my life. The way everyone showed up for us with gifts and cards and flowers and hugs and happy wishes was precisely why it was so hard to leave them. In those last moments when we were still residents of California, we got to experience both sides of what it means to love deeply - an adventure in and of itself - simultaneously.
Having to say goodbye was so hard, and it was so hard because the love we share is so tremendous.
And this is what I mean when I say “Life is an adventure.” It is an expression of my desire to love with my whole heart, cherish every single moment, and try not to hold on too tightly, to anything. It is about saying yes to my husband and this new life in the midwest even though, quite frankly, it isn’t a decision I would have made on my own. It is letting thoughts and feelings that appear, on the surface, to completely contradict each other flow through me and around me. The mystery of what lies ahead in this new part of the world is exciting, and I also, at the exact same time, want to call the whole thing off and go back to Santa Barbara. And that is the adventure - embracing both/and, allowing all the feelings, and trusting that, in this particular situation, there is no right or wrong.
Right now, the questions I need to answer aren't about what I will do in this new part of the world or how I will fit in, but of how I will choose to show up when confronted with uncertainty, sorrow, trepidation and how I intend to embrace all the possibilities ahead of me. And they are, as always, about Mary Oliver, and the most fundamental question of all: What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?
As much as I can, wherever I happen to be, it is to love deeply, let go, and dive in.