Verner: Finding our place in the sun (or shade)

  • Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:26 a.m.

Our friends Sam and Marilyn recently moved to Florida.

Signed on for new jobs. Sold the house in Salisbury. Packed their bags, put the beagle in the backseat and headed south. That’s the Cliff Notes version; things are never that seamless where real estate transactions, lawyers and potted plants are involved. But still, they just did it, a life transformation that has left some of us as awe-struck as if they’d up and moved to the moon (which, given interstate highway traffic these days, would probably be a more relaxing journey).

“I cannot imagine ever moving again,” my wife said.

Me either. In fact, plant me on the deck with a good book, a mug of coffee and a spot of shade, and I can do a convincing imitation of a dead stump. Heightening the effect is the fact that patches of my beard started mysteriously disappearing months ago. Now, it looks like I’m cultivating random splotches of lichen on my chin rather than facial hair. Personally, I think it’s a good look — especially after I’ve been sitting outside in the rain for a few hours.

Life hasn’t always been this ... settled. In my youth, I careened from place to place like a gyrating top. In the first 10 years after I graduated from college, I moved at least 10 times, not simply from cheap apartment to cheap apartment but from one city to another, one job to another. sometimes even circling back to the town and job I’d left a year or so previously. In psychological terms, I suppose I was trying to find myself. Or I had developed a strange obsession with borrowed pickups and rental vans.

One of those moves even took me to Florida. I was in my late 20s and wanted to see more of the world, so I took a newspaper job in Jacksonville. The world, I quickly discovered, was absurdly hot, flat as a waffle iron and full of roaches the size of Humvees. Plus, there was all that sand, which had the irritating habit of showing up where it shouldn’t, like in shoes and underwear. Other than that, however, Florida was a perfectly lovely place to live, as I assured Sam when he first told me about their plans. I stayed there just long enough to meet my wife and get a bad sunburn while Christmas shopping. Then it was back to Georgia and, eventually, North Carolina.

That was almost 14 years ago. Some boxes from that last move are still sitting in the garage, unpacked — an accusatory symbol of how much stuff we can live without, as well as a reminder of how physically and emotionally exhausting it can be to pull up stakes, sort your accumulated life into boxes and heave yourself into the unknown.

It’s good to do that occasionally, we’re told — to uproot ourselves, shake off the old dirt, replant ourselves and encourage new growth. As a whole, Americans do a lot of repotting: The average American family moves every five years, or about 16 times, according to Census studies. (Those statistics seem high to me. Maybe they’re skewed by people in witness protection programs.) Many moves, obviously, are work related or reflect families upsizing or downsizing. Juxtaposed against this rampant mobility, however, is this: Nearly 4 in 10 Americans — or almost 40 percent — have never left the community where they were born, according to a 2008 Pew study. Even among the restless and the career driven, I suspect most people reach a point in life where, even if the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s way too much bother to get to it.

Hence my astonishment at people like Sam and Marilyn who, snugly perched in the “empty nest” stage of life, suddenly take wing. Sometimes, it involves a move to sunny Florida or — if you’re already in Florida — perhaps to rugged Maine, remote Alaska or North Carolina. A couple of years ago, I met a couple who were selling their home near Charleston and moving to Argentina. Why Argentina? They had friends who’d relocated there, and they enjoyed mountain horseback riding.

There are even those so afflicted with wanderlust they can’t stop moving. They sell their houses, divest themselves of furniture and appliances, buy a motorhome or camper and hit the road, with no final stopping place in mind. That’s fully embracing the philosophy that life’s a journey, not a destination — although given fuel prices, you might want to consider a Prius and a pup tent.

Whether we’re nomads or homebodies, globe trotters or armchair travelers, we’re all seeking our place in the sun, even as we cling to the comfort and stability of familiar ground. To departing friends, we wish safe travels and happiness at journey’s end. To quote that great philosopher, Lemony Snicket: “It is always sad when someone leaves home, unless they are simply going around the corner and will return in a few minutes with ice-cream sandwiches.”

Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.

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