"What makes a life worth living?" My husband asked me one day when the rain had fallen for most of the morning and then burst into sunshine by lunchtime.
This was a question he had been asking himself ever since he left Africa so many years before. He told me that he would catch glimpses of what a life worth living felt like, only to have the idea elude him once again. He wondered whether it was God's way of getting us to pay closer attention and be more conscious of our decisions.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing is secure but life, transition, and the energizing spirit."
Was that what our lifestyle experiment was about: moving the energizing spirit around? Or was it all the stories we were hearing of people who were forced to slow down and take a good look at the way they were living due to debilitating disease or loss?
Five years ago, we took the leap of faith and moved to the south of France to live a different life, reexamine our priorities and learn to live again.
It wasn't forever but it was for awhile (and lasted 3 years). We are extremely grateful that we weren't compelled to take stock of our lives due to illness, but that we made a conscious choice to take this time when we were healthy.
Our willingness to exchange our house with a view, modern conveniences, comfortable income, luxury cars, shopping sprees, and prepared meals for something simpler was not easy by any measure, but it was ever so gratifying.
We discovered that savoring a glass of local wine in an outdoor café provided as much pleasure as an expensive bottle in a five-star restaurant. Having time to build relationships with neighbors and eat meals together as a family every single day fed our souls and reinforced our connection to each other.
We still loved and desired beautiful things, but our newfound focus on small, everyday pleasures shifted our perspective and moved us toward a willingness to make tradeoffs that we hadn't been prepared to make before. Our values and priorities were starting to become clearer with each passing day.
"Listen to this," I said to Jean one evening, reading a quote from Henry David Thoreau. "‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.' I think that is what is happening," I added. "The laws of the universe seem to be simpler than they were before. Or is it just my imagination?"
We truly felt that our workaholic behaviors were being replaced by health, joy, and balance.
Every few weeks on one of our walks, Jean and I would check in with where our life was headed and explore how we'd reprioritize and create a more balanced lifestyle once we returned to the States.
Our time off had been about rejuvenation and re-establishing what was important to us in living a good life, deciding upon the work we wanted to do and the lifestyle we wanted to have.
We had begun to unlearn how we had been living, and learn instead how to live well. Not only were our priorities changing, but we were changing also. We were beginning to feel truly free to go anywhere and do anything we wanted.
"One thing I realize now," I said, "is that our time off is allowing me to truly take care of myself without guilt, and is teaching me what I must do to live a long, healthy, and balanced life. Here, we don't have excuses to eat unhealthily, not exercise, and not take time for ourselves."
In our old life, we would have persevered, paid a therapist for weekly visits, and indulged in massages and other bodywork in an attempt to speed up the healing process.
I was beginning to see that putting Band-Aids on top of psychic wounds just doesn't work.
I remember the chills that swept through me when the therapist had said to Jean, "Suzanne's soul is dying." How right she was. It had been withering slowly and imperceptibly. Only with this dramatic lifestyle shift was it beginning to flourish again.
Our leap of faith as individuals and a family allowed us to experience a different life, grow close, travel, and learn what is important.
We continue to take new leaps of faith as we publish our new book, and refocus on living a balanced life, doing work that works for us and continuing to pull all of our dreams together.