I recently read Richard Morgan’s 2006 book Settling In: My First Year in a Retirement Community. At age 74, Morgan, a retired Presbyterian minister, moved from Morgantown, North Carolina to a retirement community in Western Pennsylvania. He and his wife had been in Morgantown for 50 years and had expected to stay there the rest of their lives. Two factors prompted their move to another state: affordability and proximity to their daughter. Morgan had positive expectations when he made the move, and found much to like about their new community during the first few weeks. Still, it was a shock:
“In Morganton I was known and recognized as an author, historian, and volunteer–I was ‘somebody.’ Now I was ‘nobody,’ a stranger in a strange place. There I had so many friends; here we only knew two adults and two children, our children and grandchildren.”
After a month or so, Morgan had significant second thoughts:
“I began tormenting myself with such questions as, What have I done? Was it really the best time? Why didn’t we wait a few more years until our funds would allow us to live in a retirement community nearer our home? Why was I so impulsive?
Morgan missed his library, where he had spent countless hours reading and writing. He felt confined living in a unit much smaller than the house from which he and his wife had moved. He found other residents who regretted coming to the retirement community. One woman had stuffed animals arrayed on her windowsill, looking out. She said, “Those animals remind me how much I would love to be back in my home, and how I long to get out of here.” Not everyone had this view of their new living arrangements, though. Another resident also had stuffed animals on her window sill, but she had arranged them so they faced into the room. She said, “I love my animals. As they look at my apartment, they remind me of how fortunate I am to be here!”
Morgan was struck by the difference in these residents’ perspectives. He identified with the first woman, but wrote that “the peace and quiet acceptance of the other resident spoke to me.” By the end of the book, his view of the community has become much like that of the second woman.
I’ll write in a later post about the change that Morgan underwent. For now, I want to note that, though I am younger than Morgan was when he wrote the book and I haven’t moved into a retirement community, I can identify with his sense of loss and displacement. I lived in the same city–also in North Carolina and only a little bigger than Morgantown–for over thirty years, then relocated to Michigan to help my parents. Though I returned to my home town, virtually all the friends from my youth had moved elsewhere. I missed the life I had in North Carolina–the work I did, the friends I had made, the church that had meant so much to me. I’ve made new friends, started working part-time, and gotten involved with church and community. Still, I don’t have as complete a life as I did before. Perhaps I never will, at least in this location.
I have no regrets about relocating. I was able to help my dad before his death in 2014 and still am providing assistance to my mother. Unlike Morgan, I don’t anticipate that where I’m living now is where I will stay the rest of my life. At some point, my mother will no longer need my help, and at that point I probably will move again. Though I could go back to North Carolina, I most want to live near one of my children. Thus, I’m not fully settled where I’m at though I’ve been here nearly five years. I’ve learned to live with that state of affairs. Life is a pilgrimage. That is to say, we are always on a journey to some place where blessing awaits us. That is true whether we stay in place physically or move constantly. My unsettled state has the virtue of making me more receptive to the journey. It cultivates in me a sense of wonder, an openness to possibilities, an expectation that the not-yet has something propitious in store. Though it can be a challenging way to live at times, it has its consolations, and for that I’m grateful.