I've always loved the idea of Winston Churchill, although I suspect I would not have loved the man, as bellicose and insensitive as he was brilliant and inspiring. At a time of almost unimaginable fear – people who talk about hard times today have not read or learned about Europe 70 years ago, cable news and presidential candidates are not much into history – he called upon himself and others to rise above themselves, to live out their finest hour, whatever was to come.
And so Churchill was successful in that call to courage and nobility of purpose, understanding it was so much more powerful than terror and hatred.
Fear is everywhere in our time, much more than his. I put up an ironic photo of junky farm art a few days ago and was instantly flooded with messages, few of them about the idea of farm art, almost every one about the dangers of water-collecting tires – encephalitis, mosquitoes, heartworm, West Nile. I know what Churchill would have said to those messages and I am no Churchill. But this is how we are coming to see the world, not in terms of its beauty but of its dangers. The warnings are, of course well meaning, the language and currency of our times, people simply reflecting what they see and hear all day long. For me, awakening begins with a different way of seeing the world. Don't take chances, especially not in "this economy." Hold off on your life to be safe.
It sometimes seems we are losing the magic in our lives, deaf to the songs the angels sing. I will go with the angels, I do not wish to live in a joyless world. There is more danger crossing my road than having tires in my backyard.
This weekend, Maria and I moved into our new home, which we love dearly already, it so fits our lives and our creative connection. We love its history – the old farmhouse, Florence Walrath, the blind pony and spirit who drew us here. Magic everywhere, angels rattling the windows. It was perhaps the most challenging, grueling, risky and impulsive thing either of us has done. We have not sold our other farm and I don't even like to think about how much all of this has cost, will cost, or how we will deal with it. If I do, I feel a small taste of what Churchill must have felt those decades ago in the night as he confronted mind-boggling dangers and challenges so much greater than mine. Churchill wrote that he was so often terrified in the dark that he decided to get up at 2 a.m. every night and write books. Maybe I do love the man.
So, one day at a time. Failure is not an option. I see this spirit in my good friend Jenna Woginrich, another mad writer, blogger, farmer who helped us move and who wonders every day how she will get through the next while everyone around her is looking for paying jobs with health plans. And then does.
I often tell Jenna that you don't really have to be brave, you just need to be nuts. This is what Thoreau taught us. Don't listen to them, listen to the voices in your own head. That is what freedom is. Churchill understood that, he said once that if he had listen to much advice, he would simply have hung himself.
I can't see inside of my own life. I don't know if this was my finest hour or my most foolish one. I can't say that for sure if I am being honest. How can I know? Maybe it was both wonderful and foolish.
It was an affirmation of love, for sure, and it's great power. Love is the point of all of this, the purpose and the fuel. We did it for each other. It was something we each needed to do. Maria and I work so well together. I see myself as the outside person – dealing with contractors, electricians, carpenters, credit card companies and changes of address, banks and Maria as the inside person – painting, arranging, restoring, packing and unpacking, hanging things on walls, putting them in closets. And there were so many points at which we came to together in the middle – removing wallpaper, scraping and priming, farm chores, animal care. She was astonished at the things I did – she never imagined me taking off wallpaper – and I am in awe of the things she does.
I know that just because most people think something is a bad idea – buying a new home before you've sold the old one – doesn't make it a good idea. Sometimes all those people are right. In the still of the night – right now – I tremble at what I have done, decided to to, need to do. I am not a kid starting it and I have used up most if not all of our resources, and I am aware that at a time when most people settle down in their lives, I have once again upended mine.
From my narrow and self-interested perspective, I am so grateful and glad for this move. I called up the strength inside of me. I made the best and most sensible decisions. I swatted the fear back every night like a kid swatting at baseballs.
So far, I have handled money in the most efficient and effective way. I surrounded myself with the best and most competent people imaginable – Ben is a true hero to us – and worked with them without a moment's tension, confusion or difficulty. I paid them all on time, there have been no conflicts about bills or estimates, and they were all honest and open with me. And we are not yet done – today, another intense day – the wood stove, more electrical work, a chicken coop, Ben working on the rotten sills on the North side of the house, capped by a talk tonight and signing in Clifton Park, N.Y. Maybe I am proudest of this - I worked hard to help Maria have a good place to work, as she has done for me. Our creative spaces are sacred to us both.
I have been tested every day for many months, mentally and physically, and so has Maria. We are ready for the next chapter. And there is this: we mustered the courage to take our lives in our hands and move forward, rather than being hobbled by fear and alarm. We were always good to each other, always love done another, held one another, never failed one another. Even as I felt plenty of fear and alarm. And lots of magic. That was Churchill's true genius – to make that choice. In his mind, he was always going to be triumphant, there could be no other outcome. A fine hour, for sure.
Nothing good is free or easy. Our lives have not been normal for months, there was a national book tour thrown in the middle. We are exhausted, broke and eager for normalcy. No complaints, our choice all the way. And we are excited, pleased and strong. We have not had a normal day or quiet day for months. We are not going on any vacations this year (or the last). I am not the one to say how I dealt with all of this, or whether my decisions were good, yet I am proud of it and good with it, at least most of the time. A sense of pride and purpose welling up in me, a sense that when it really mattered, I turned away from fear.
I hope that in the coming years and months, when Maria and I and others look back on this remarkable time, we will see it in a Churchillian way. That it was, in fact, our finest hour, a call to life, not a surrender to fear. A time that revealed the best of us, not the worst.