One Day You Knew What You Had To Do…

The January 23rd quote of the day from The Journey by Mary Oliver has been one of my favorites for many years:

One day you knew what you had to do, and began

Every time I hear or see the above quote, I remember the day in 1985 when I knew what I had to do and I began…

In 1985 I was living in Kenosha, Wisconsin during one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record.  I had a house in a rural area with a long driveway.  One night I was shoveling the driveway in sub-zero weather trying to make sure that I would be able to get the car out of the garage the next morning to go to work.  It was a futile attempt!  The wind was whipping the snow into drifts faster than I could keep up. My hands and feet were freezing despite several layers of mittens and socks.

As I was bracing myself against the wind and struggling to lift a heavy shovel of snow up over a huge drift I was stuck with a horrendous thought: “Will I still be shoveling snow like this when I am 80 years old?”

The thought almost knocked me off my feet.  I could not fathom doing this cold, back-breaking work every winter for the rest of my life!  There had to be a better way to live!

My driveway in the 1985 Snowstorm

I remember going into the house that night and lying in bed.  My legs could not get warm.  It was the first time I had actually experienced “bone chilling cold.” My BONES were cold and I didn’t know how to warm them.  I started to cry.

That night I finally knew what I had to do —
I had to move to a warmer climate.

My 20-year marriage had just ended, so making a move to another part of the country with my three children was not something that could easily be accomplished.  But I knew that I had to do it, so I began by doing some research.  I got a book that brought me through a series of questions to help me decide in what part of the country I would be happiest.

The San Francisco Bay Area is what came out on top!  I had never been to California, so I decided I would pick a town in the area that was about the same size as Kenosha.  I picked Santa Rosa, located north of San Francisco.  I subscribed to the Santa Rosa newspaper and wrote to the Chamber of Commerce for information. I told everyone I knew that I was planning to make a move in the summer of 1985.

In April of that year I flew with a friend to Santa Rosa. My friend’s mother lived in Santa Rosa, so we had a place to stay during our week-long visit. Prior to leaving on my maiden voyage to a new land I put my house on the market.  I really had no hopes of it selling as Kenosha was going through an unusual time. Its major employer, American Motors, was about to close its doors and there were 4,500 houses on the market (in a town of 76,000) and none of them were selling.

My trip to Santa Rosa was a bit discouraging. I loved what I saw but the job situation was dismal. I had lined up five job interviews and everyone wanted to pay $5 an hour or less for secretarial work. I was making twice that amount in Kenosha where the cost of living was much lower than in California.

My last interview was with a small insurance company in Santa Rosa who wanted an office manager proficient in word processing and shorthand (skills I had). The woman who was interviewing me said the job paid $5 per hour (and no benefits). Exasperated, I asked her how she expected anyone to be able to support themselves on $5 an hour. Her reply shocked me. “Honey, that’s what a husband is for.” I couldn’t believe my ears and also couldn’t resist giving her a lecture on women’s rights before I walked out the door!

The day before I left California, I called a friend who had recently relocated from Kenosha to Walnut Creek. She invited me to visit her and check out San Francisco’s East Bay. Again, I liked what I saw but I had not researched that area and flew home feeling quite discouraged. To my surprise, when I returned home I had a message from my realtor telling me that she had received a cash offer on my house for the asking price!

Now I was faced with an even more difficult decision.  Should I stay in my comfort zone, even though I was uncomfortable in it, or should I take the risk and jump into the unknown? I called my friend in Walnut Creek and asked for her advice.  She told me that she was sure that I could easily find a job in San Francisco that would pay me what I needed to make and if I moved to the Walnut Creek area I could also easily commute to San Francisco on public transportation.

I then asked my dad what he thought.  He really didn’t want me to move, but throughout my life he had always been supportive in all my decisions, so I knew that he would give me good, unbiased advice.  He suggested that I draw up a Pros and Cons chart — what were the pros and cons of staying in Kenosha and what were the pros and cons of moving to California.  After I made my chart it was clear that I needed to move.

So I began the process. I contacted a relocation realtor in Walnut Creek who had been recommended to me by the Kenosha realtor who had sold my house. I also registered with some Bay Area employment agencies. On June 27, 1985 I was on an airplane to San Francisco with my three children. In two months I had sold almost everything I owned, quit my job, packed up and shipped the belongings we wanted to take with us and took a leap of faith. My friend in Walnut Creek had found a house that I could sublet for the summer.  A couple of days after I arrived I went on two job interviews that had been set up by the employment agencies. I was offered both jobs and started working for California State Automobile Association in the legal department on July 5 at $11 per hour. The relocation realtor met me on the second day of my arrival and proceeded to find me the perfect house — a 4 bedroom townhome (where I still live).

From the time I made the decision to actually take the risk and move it seemed that I was being divinely guided. People even commented that I appeared to be walking under a silver cloud. Whenever a stumbling block appeared in my path, somehow it was always transformed into a stepping stone. I truly believe that when we know what we have to do and decide to do it, the universe paves the way.  Our job is to follow-through and stay in the flow!


The Journey
(to listen to the poem read by Mary Oliver, click in the left “heart” above)

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver ~

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