By Donna Frischknecht Jackson
The “For Sale” sign in front of what was known as the oldest house in Rupert was like a love letter written just for me — wooing me that crisp fall morning a decade ago to make it my home. They say love is blind, and so when others pointed out its imperfections, I was there to defend the little clapboard Cape Cod. “It’s too close to the road,” some said. “It’s authentic,” I replied. Eighteenth century homes often wound up with the road at their doorstep. It’s the price to pay for modernity. Luckily, though, the road wasn’t a busy one. Others remarked how tiny and rustic it was. “Tiny” and “rustic,” though, were two of my favorite adjectives.
I’ll admit it. It was love at first sight. While the house had me at hello, it went the extra mile wining and dining me, showing me a spacious yard, views of the Green Mountains and, to boot, a trail behind the property that was perfect for running. My Vermont home was a long-time dream come true. Ever since I was a little girl, wearing her “Little House on the Prairie” bonnet and carrying a wicker basket around pretending to gather up herbs that were really dandelions in the tiny New Jersey yard of my childhood, I dreamt of a rural Colonial home to call my own. Even when I moved away to serve churches in New York and Maryland, the Vermont home remained just that. Home. And it always embraced me warmly when I returned. Nowadays, though, that embrace is waning.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Was it me having a problem with where I was in my life or was it actually where I was in life that was the problem? Was this unhappiness a home version of a seven-year itch? Was my dream come true simply maturing and evolving? Or was it something a whole lot scarier and disconcerting? Was the Spirit of God, which is never stagnant, picking up velocity trying her best to swish me on to the what next in life? I have known these Spirit winds before, and they have uprooted me many times and in many unsettling ways. What was going on? Why was I noticing things I’ve never noticed before?
When I remarked to my husband how busy our once quiet road had become in just the last year, he said what every husband who is afraid of where his wife’s comment might be leading said: “It’s all in your head.” I knew it wasn’t, though. Confirmation soon came when my neighbor mentioned the heavy traffic — mind you, I didn’t broach this topic with him — and how things in our little slice-of-rural heaven were changing and changing fast.
I have noticed local names that graced weathered mailboxes fading from the landscape. With no jobs in the areas, young families with ties to those legendary names have moved out, leaving empty houses to be snatched up by, dare I say, “outsiders” — folks from the cities that bring with them city ideas of living. I can’t really bash these people. I am one of them. I come from North New Jersey, but I came seeking not to change rural life, but to embrace it. Plus, I married a local boy, so I’ve been accepted by default. Being a pastor, too, also helps one assimilate a bit more quickly into a rural community.
There is this sense of history — of ties to the land — evaporating quickly, and new names on freshly painted mailboxes bring change. For example, a proposal recently passed to turn an old general store into a community center, complete with a green area for having picnics. Not sure why that was needed considering every house in the area comes with wide-open green space to picnic, if so desired. And a community center? The area schools are dwindling, not many children around to entertain, and the neighboring village already has a struggling community center. Yet, another one is underway.
If the community center was enough to scratch your head, there was the beaver dam debacle. Yes, you read correctly. Beavers lived in a swampy spot on the trail behind my home. I loved visiting them and watching the progress of their work. But one day, the dam was decimated. The water was drained and the nibbled birch logs that were erected into little huts were pushed aside by a bulldozer. I soon learned a new neighbor from out-of-state “had something done” about the beavers.
Another new neighbor is now calling for the country post office to be opened 24-7 with a fluorescent-lit vestibule like that which he had while living in California. And don’t get me going about the new neighbor who likes to sit in the field across from our home and shoot his gun. What exactly he is hunting, I am not sure? All I know is that his shooting is almost always out of season.
All of this has made me unsettled. But today was the day, the tears finally came. I was starting my morning run, feeling the joy in my soul rev up as I my legs sprinted through the tall grass blowing in the back field of my home. I was making my way to the trail that has always been a magical haven for me. It has been a place to clear my head, pray, feel closer to God.
Today, though, my run came to a screeching halt as I got to the edge of the trail. In front of me, were three large construction vehicles, some paver of sorts, a truck filled with gravel, and another piece of equipment. Instead of a soft bed of leaves and grass and fallen twigs to run upon, there was mean looking gravel. Instead of the rich, deep earthy smell of dirt still wet from the morning dew, I could small asphalt. Instead of deer, rabbit or even fox prints imprinted on the ground, reminding me that I was never alone on this trail, there was a smooth expanse of concrete. My beloved trail had been widened. My natural sanctuary had been paved. It had been made to look like the overcrowded, suburban trails that I vowed I would never run on again. I stood there staring, feeling an all-too-familiar feeling.
New York City had once courted me and wrote me love letter early in my adult life and I enthusiastically said “yes” to its offer to live together. After many happy years, though, something just wasn’t right. Things began to change. First the Irish pub down the block from my co-op was torn down to make way for a large office building. Then the co-op’s rooftop, the coveted spot for viewing Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks, was turned into a posh penthouse for millions of dollars. I would now have to brave the crowds on my way to the waterfront firework display. These might seem like trivial things, but when you begin falling out of love the trivial becomes monumental.
I remember one night sitting at an outside table on Columbus Avenue with a friend nursing my drink. As the ice cubes melted and watered down the cocktail, I shared with her the same question I now ask: Is it me having a problem with where I am in my life or is it actually where I am in life that is the problem? I then asked her, “When does one know when it is time to move on from a longed for and realized dream?”
As the setting summer sun washed the apartment buildings surrounding us on fire with beautiful reds and oranges, my heart ached. I would miss the city and all it had to offer. Yet another dream was now tugging at me. My friend listened, and after I was done speaking, she smiled and shrugged and nonchalantly observed: “Your dream is breaking up with you.” Within a year, my Manhattan co-op was on the market and I was placing my well-worn quilt on a rocking chair in front of an 18th century hearth.
As with all break ups, the breaking up with a dream comes with heartache. And yet, when a dream breaks up with you, what choice do you have but to accept the time has come to say good-bye. If you fight to hold on to it, it will just lead to more unhappiness as you try to make a life that you have outgrown work.
No, when your dream breaks up with you it’s best to thank that dream for all the wonderful memories and for the space is gave you to discover more of who you really are. You thank that dream and the lessons learned. You remain strong, but more importantly, you remain open to love that is still to come in the way of all those amazing God possibilities that seem so impossible.
As my feet hit the paved trail this morning, I wiped away my tears. Breaking up is hard to do, but there is a dream waiting to be realized — one that can only be found on unpaved paths.
The author’s beloved natural trail, once shaded with trees and rich with soft dirt, has now been widened and paved, leading her to wonder what new “unpaved” paths God has for her.