For two consecutive years, 2016 and 2017, I’ve confused my seasons and moved North in the dead of winter. Minus seventeen degrees was the lowest temperature—on a Sunday morning! Church was not cancelled. Here are a few observations:
Calling/Vocation—I didn’t initiate either of these experiences. I’m a retired pastor/preacher/church consultant who lives in South Carolina with my wife Sally and my cat Caesar. During the last fifteen years, I’ve worked with churches in crisis or transition. My skill set is to serve as a “bridge” from their past to their future. Trinity Baptist Church in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Connecticut, needed help. They called. I responded. It’s a good thing to feel useful. It’s even better to be useful. I’m grateful for all my friends who encouraged and/or prayed for me. Trinity called a fine young pastor and Wilton, I believe, is close to calling someone as their pastor. I’ll keep you posted.
Family—Anyone who knows me understands that family is important. Sally and I have been married 44 years. Our daughter Jenna, son-in-law Thorne, and Grandson Lake live three blocks from Sally and me. They eat supper with us every Sunday night. On the other hand, our daughter Julie and her husband Tom live outside Boston, a long way from South Carolina. I don’t like that distance at all. By being in New England for good chunks of 2016 and 2017, Julie, Tom and I could get together about once every three weeks. I loved, loved, loved those times. Francis Bacon said something like this: “If the mountain can’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed can go to the mountain.” So, off to New England, I traveled.
Adventure—What’s not to like about a Currier & Ives Winter Wonderland? For someone with an incurable case of wanderlust, New England is an attractive option. Ivy League schools, hockey games, moose, frozen ponds and rivers, all sounded intriguing. Merely sightseeing (no offense to my touristy friends) is not an adventure. Getting out of my comfort zone is. I dreaded the idea of shoveling snow, but that worked out just fine. Also, I was aware of the proximity of New Hampshire to Canada and Connecticut to New York City, so I took advantage of both. I spent a few days in Montreal and several days in Manhattan. I saw four Broadway plays. I toured West Point. I loved the picturesque town squares and greens, as well as the streams, waterfalls, hills and wildlife, the covered bridges, mansions, churches, shops, restaurants, museums, and monuments I discovered all over New England, from Newport, Rhode Island, to Walpole, New Hampshire, to Quechee, Vermont, to New Haven, Connecticut, to Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Lots of beauty, lots of history, and lots of fine food!
(Bonus points for Adventure: Dartmouth College was an intriguing part of my 2016 experience. As the Baptist Student Minister for the campus, I had access to libraries, lectures, and other aspects of campus life. I took continuing education courses.
Serendipity—Food! I’ve never taken a road trip for the sake of a culinary experience, but neither have I shied away from dietary excellence. King Arthur Flour was a highlight of my first winter away—pastries, breads, desserts. Incomparable. The farms of Vermont and New Hampshire produce some of the best cheeses you will ever taste. This year, I discovered the restaurants in the corner of Connecticut where I lived were exceptional, with a commitment to locally grown meat and vegetables. On my last trip into New York City (the train ride costs only $8.50), I determined to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I couldn’t afford most of them—over $300 for a fixed price meal. I discovered NoMad was within my price range, made a reservation, and had one of the great dinners of my life.
Being alone—Traveling by myself has, of course, pluses and minuses. I’ve blogged about that before. I’m comfortable with Quiet Time. I read a lot. I write. I walk. I think. I eat. I read. I eat. I walk. I read. I eat. I’m perfectly content to go to a baseball game, a high school musical, or a museum tour by myself. I prefer to be with someone, but that’s not always possible.
In case I sound a bit too blasé or pious about all this time unaccompanied, let me be clear: both years, I got very lonely. The adventure wore off. I’m sure I don’t want to spend a full winter in New England or apart from Sally again. Sally and I really missed each other. She came up once during each of these sojourns for about a week. Thank God for those occasions when friends or family called or visited or wrote. Sometimes, member of the Trinity and Wilton congregations reached out to me, and sometimes I reached out to them, so I also enjoyed local fellowship.
I’ve reflected about people who have no choice about living alone: widows and widowers. I’m sensitive to the fact that being by yourself is not always a choice. It can be painful. I’m fortunate. I came home to a wife who loves me.
Until the wanderlust strikes again, or, until I get a phone call, whichever comes first, I’m glad to be home.