Suddenly, And Then All At Once

The other day someone brought up my trip to the UK and I instantly found myself smiling. The reason wasn’t just because I had a great time and I’m dying to go back, but because of the change it’s inspired in my life since I came home.

Without a doubt, the time I spent in Wales forever changed my life. Joy doesn’t even begin to explain my feelings about being able to spend time with an old friend on his farm in Dolwyddelan.

I first met Haydn when he worked at Camp Androscoggin in Wayne, Maine with one of my friends, Derek nearly 12 years ago. Right from the start, I always thought the world of him – he was smart, funny, and unlike a lot of the other guys he seemed genuinely interested in being just friends.

Thanks to this new social networking site called Facebook, we were able to stay in touch after camp ended. I found myself living in New York City when he reached out to me to see if he and ‘a couple’ of his army friends could stay with me for New Years. Haydn taught me a lot during that trip- one of those things being that the British version of a ‘couple’ is slightly more than the American version. We decided that he’d have to make it up to me by letting me stay with him someday.

Our best laid plans got derailed as life took us in different directions.

In March of 2014, everything changed when he almost died in a military accident. We kept in touch about his progress through mutual friends and Facebook messaging. By the time I made my way to see him in April 2017, it had been more than 8 years since we rang in the new year together and 3 years since his accident.

I was filled with nerves as I got off the train and walked out of the station, but then there he was –  the same, smiling, and happy Brit I had always known – albeit with a little more of a beard than I remembered.

Our time was filled with mini adventures.

We started with a drive to Conwy castle and walked the edges of the city walls, soaking in the early morning sun rising on a sleeping village. It was like we had the entire place to ourselves. We walked through the cobblestone streets trying to find an open cafe, and when we finally found one, we spent nearly an hour over flat whites talking about his accident and road to recovery. I hadn’t realized the true extent of his injuries until that conversation. I found myself on the verge of tears, but also wanting to hear every last detail.

As we talked about how this unexpected fork in the road redirected the life he had originally planned for himself I admired Haydn more than he could ever possibly comprehend. I kept thinking: How lucky am I to know someone so resilient and awesome? And when I say awesome, I mean it in the true meaning of the word – to inspire awe.

On our way home we tried to sneak into an old church, because why on earth would a church in Wales not be open to the public?! He took me to the pasture his sheep call home, and he let me drive over a hillside on a four-wheeler. We laughed as we talked about how Bill would say he’s crazy for not giving me a helmet. We stopped by another church between the fields and his house to try and and find the oldest grave in the place. It was the early 1500’s. We listened to the radio, no, not some bluetooth device, but a real-life radio as we cooked dinner on the heart of the home.

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His Mom and I shared a cry as we talked about how grateful she was that he was alive and thriving. We hugged and we laughed. We sat around a fire and shared memories of his time in Maine. His parents shared stories of his childhood. All of this made it impossible to not instantly feel at home.

The next morning I chased sheep around a field and I’ve never smiled more in my life. I helped shear sheep, clean hooves, and mark newborn lambs. The work is hard and the hours are long, but the life is good. Sometimes the weather wants to work with you, but most of the time it’s a little testy. From rain, to sleet, to snow and back to sunshine – thank goodness, it truly can change in a minute.

Each day I found myself thinking: How is this someone’s real life? How was it that someone could wake up to the most beautiful storybook views I’ve ever seen every single day? How was it that you could live such a grueling schedule and work such an intense job, and yet, feel completely happy and alive in every moment of it all?

It was intoxicating and freeing in every way.

This practice of letting go of everything and seeing what remains has become the motto of my 29th year. I remember sitting on the train crying as I was leaving because my time with Haydn was the first time, in a really long time, that I felt like I was truly living in the moment.

Since I’ve left, I find myself constantly reflecting on the idea: What would I do differently? Am I living the kind of life that brings me joy? If I died tomorrow, would I feel satisfied with what I’ve done today?

On my train ride to London I wrote the following note:

Every day in this life of mine, I haven’t been living. I thought I was, but it was a lie. I haven’t been stopping to appreciate the simple things and I have been blind to so many little things in my life that are meaningless. They add nothing, but take so much. Where is the balance? Where does it start and end?

Note to self: Find the balance and find what brings you joy. Do more of those things and leave the rest. Live simply. Live fearlessly.

When I came home, I felt like I was suffocating in ‘stuff’ all around me. I started throwing things away. Room by room and weekend by weekend (a couple of super late school nights too) my greatest focus was to declutter my life. I started looking around and asking myself, “Does this bring me joy? Does this evoke a memory that makes me smile or laugh?” If the answer is no, then it could go. Goodwill reaped the benefits of my purging.

My patio was frustrating to me because it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, so I searched on Pinterest until I found something I thought I could do – and I did it. Now, that patio brings a smile to my face and makes me chuckle when I think about my favorite trip to Home Depot.

Oh, sweet Parker. I realized I’m not a cat person. And honestly, he wasn’t very happy living with me either. He needed someone who spent more time at home with him. My lifestyle of being on the go is more suitable for a dog that can join me on my adventures (or crash with my Mom for the weekend). I was hanging with a friend who said, “If I knew someone else could provide a happier or better life for my pet then I would want them to have him.”

The very next day I was on the phone with my sister, who was looking for a cat for her bonus child, Nena. Now Parker plays dress up, gets unlimited food and treats, and is definitely living his best life.

When I first moved back to Maine, I based my success on how much I was doing at any given moment. The busier I was the happier I seemed. However, this wasn’t true. All it really did was cause me stress and anxiety. Why? Because I am a type-A perfectionist. I like to do things well, but this isn’t possible when you’re trying to do too many things all the time.

So, I took a look at my community involvement and I picked my top three things. What was it I was really passionate about? The answer was really the future of this community in three parts: Young Professionals, Small Business Growth, and Children.

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Another thing I realized while I was with Haydn: My life is too planned out.

Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that there are few things that make me happier than a well-done agenda and timeline. This side of myself needed to loosen up.

Being with Haydn and not having to think about what my day would look like or where we’d end up was the most fun I had had in years. I needed that then, and I decided that I definitely need more of that in my life now.

We spent so much time talking about what we’d do if: What would we say differently if the only opportunity to say it was right then and there? What would we wish we had done differently if we ran out of tomorrows today?

Well…

  • I would worry less and live more.
  • I’d let go of the material things that make feel happy, and focus on the things that create happiness in my life.
  • I’d live for experiences, not things.
  • I’d realize that all of my excuses for not taking better care of my physical and mental health are lame.
  • I’d spend more time with my family and friends, and I’d tell them frequently how much they mean to me.
  • I’d start writing more because it brings me happiness to put my thoughts on paper.
  • I’d give more time and praise to God for the blessing of living this life He’s given me.

Suddenly, and then all at once on a hill in Wales, I decided that my 29th year would be all about saying yes to adventures that bring me outside of my comfort zone and help me grow.

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I will never be able to thank Haydn enough for the inspiration to make this a year dedicated to new experiences; to emotions I said I’d never feel; to spiritual growth; to the things that bring me joy. At the very least, I can pay it forward.

After all, we all need a little reminder to simplify sometimes. Maybe this can be yours.

xoxo EJB

P.S. Thank you to Haydn for giving me the OK to write about him and for hosting me at Wandering Goose Farm.

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