1998? Somewhere near Coatue Beach, Nantucket.
Every time I say the word “Nantucket”, my family screams, “UGH! NO MORE!!! Stop with the NANTUCKET!”
After all, we live in a Nantucket-inspired cottage I begged us to build. I covered the front of it in climbing rose bushes. It’s possible there is something “Nantuckety” in every room of my house. And from their perspective: A) They’ve never been to Nantucket, and B) It’s just this place I lived that one time, and enough of “my life on the island” stories already.
Even Greg will tell you if there’s a movie set anywhere in New England starring actors with Boston accents…I own it.
But as I’ve had some time to reflect on what fuels my passions/brings me peace (and thank you to Stephanie Smart who helps entrepreneurs/individuals tap into their “soul song” and make focused choices regarding their lives), I’ve realized that Nantucket is not a place. It’s a state of being for me.
I moved to Nantucket after a MASSIVE failure in my 20’s. As in the ugly, crocodile tear kind of failure when you realize you’re starting your life over from scratch. My parents had divorced and recently remarried, my sister had recently married, I had managed to spend 3 years in an emotionally abusive relationship with very intense politician-hopeful (the man who beat him for office is now the Vice President of the United States, so his career never went beyond “hope”), and I failed to gain admittance into Medical School. 3 years of working night shift as a Critical Care RN, slogging through science classes during the day, sleeping in my car between shifts and O-Chem labs, going into massive educational debt…UGH. Just thinking about it makes me cringe.
30 miles out to sea, off the coast of Cape Cod lies Nantucket. About 3 miles wide and 13 miles long, with most of the land under preservation protections.
So there I was: Parents and only sibling onto new stories and new geographies, failing miserably at my job (I was a great nurse, but with my personal life in shambles, I was a horrible employee), buried in a destructive relationship, and no grad school plans on the horizon. OH YEAH, and I was LESS THAN BROKE. Forget soul-searching, I was straight up soul-bankrupt.
On a 3am coffee break at work, I snuck into the Med School library, and picked up a Nursing Journal to pass the time. I found a colorful, half-page ad for travel nursing. I’d never heard of it. Travel nursing isn’t covered in school because you must be an experienced nurse to successfully float hospitals and geographies. Even with finishing my pre-med, I had managed to accumulate a few good years of nursing experience at a large hospital. This was now a viable option. You have to be able to move every 3 months. You have to be unattached to all things material, and many nurses who choose this career path leave relationships behind.
WHERE DO I SIGN UP?
I called the phone number from the ad the next day (this call was pre-internet, so I literally knew nothing more than the name of the company and the phone number), and I swear on my life, this was the entire conversation:
Me: I’m a proficient critical care nurse in between Grad School plans. I’d like to leave the Midwest.
Travel Company: Where would you like to go?
Me: I’ve always liked movies set in New England. So maybe near Boston?
Travel Company: We could really use someone with your experience in Nantucket this summer. Actually, if you are in fact a critical care RN, we’ll take you as soon as you can get out to the island.
Nantucket? Isn’t that just a place in storybooks? Honest-to-God, I didn’t even know it was an actual place. Is it an island? A town? A county? (In fact, it is all three; droppin’ some knowledge on you today!)
“I’ll call you back in an hour.”
I rode my bike to the bookstore, because I had no money for gas. Luckily it was spring, so I was rollerblading to work to afford rent. I found a travel guide for Nantucket, and the picture on the front showed a bike leaning up against a fence on a beach. HEY. I HAVE A BIKE!
“I’ll take the job. Immediately.”
I quietly resigned from my job, sold as much as I could to get enough money to drive to Hyannisport and afford a ferry ticket, and put my clothes in my car. Luckily my Dad was in the middle of a move and staying at my apartment, so I handed him a key to a storage unit and told him when he was done, just throw my life into it. I then walked into that not-so-great boyfriend’s favorite restaurant, found him at the bar, and shook his hand goodbye.
“Wait. You’re breaking up with me and moving? WHEN?”
“Now. Good luck with your life.”
“Will you at least come back to my house so we can talk?”
And with that, I left the small town where I’d spent the first 27 years of my life, and with my sister’s companionship on the drive, I moved to Nantucket. That was some pretty great sister-stuff, if I do say so myself.
Me: Jenny, I’m going to dump him and move to Nantucket.
Jenny: YES!!! WHEN?!
Jenny: Let me call the office and pack my suitcase. I’ll help you get settled and fly back.
Because my sister is wicked awesome and all things loyal and fabulous. Look it up.
My first morning on the island, I had a mini-panic attack. Where am I? Why do I live 30 miles out in the ocean? Where are the Targets?! WHERE IS THE MALL?! My sister grabbed a map, and insisted we walk the island until we felt familiar with the lay of the land. By lunch, she wanted to move to Nantucket too.
These are the types of crazy stunts one should pull in their 20’s. By your 30’s, you have things like “mortgages” and “promises to keep”. Last week I commented to someone frustrated with a 20-something, “Oh heavens, she’s mid-20’s. What does anyone know in their mid-20’s?”
“I had a home, a full-time job, and a marriage!”
Oh. I had…um…a car and a bike. God, I really loved that bike.
While I was “on-island” I committed myself to a boyfriend-free existence. I wanted to walk off the bad taste from my past relationships, and reinvent the story of who I wished to be. I wanted to reignite my love for nursing, and figure out how I got so off-track in the first place. I wanted to work night and day to dig my way out of debt.
But mostly, I wanted to hit the big ‘ole PAUSE button on my life. STOP! EVERYTHING JUST STOP! What the HELL did I just let happen?!
It took months, but I walked on those beaches with a beat-up CD walkman until my feet turned into sand. I have returned again and again, after reaching crossroads which felt more like dead ends, and I have granted myself forgiveness for the act of living. The peaceful, wind-whipped island always greets me with fog and serenity, and a silence that allows me space to breathe.
For almost 2 decades I’ve believed I could only find this pause button while on the island. Recently, it hit me the pause button is actually inside of me. When my eye doc informed me that my eye diseases were going to need additional care, I didn’t know I needed a Nantucket state of mind…I FELT IT.
PAUSE. LORI…listen to yourself! HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON. I knew I had to stop my life. Glaucoma is not overly symptomatic (but the daily headaches with my pressures above 30 are wearisome), and my old eye strokes are holding steady per their usual number of retinal “bad days”, so my life could have chugged forward per its normal schedule. But it did not matter…I knew I had to stop the train. Immediately.
In the last 6 weeks, I have turned down 2 job offers, 4 deacon requests, and countless volunteer requests from school. I missed the school’s social event of the year. I don’t run needless errands. I cut my alcohol intake by about 95% (working my way to 100%…but that’s a process!). I took my calendar and blew a crater in it, hoping if I could slow down enough, I’d receive some direction I could not have heard otherwise.
Clearing a calendar like mine takes weeks. It takes courage. It takes persistence. And this morning I realized, it takes the same kind of bravery I exercised 19 years ago when I threw my bike on my car and headed east.
Driving away from the storage unit as I tossed in my last load. I think the shirt tucked into the high-waisted plaid Gap shorts really pulls this picture all together.
Every single day, I am presented with the opportunity to choose this space in time over other commitments. It’s not easy. Certainly my family’s lives keep churning forward, and I remain their constant companion. But my quiet days here at home have become my own, dotted with doctor appointments and dirty floors…but mostly just me…not trying to achieve, or win, or influence, or contribute. I’m finding contentment in just being.
I’m breathing again, recalling that every time I’ve been referred back to the Eye Institute, it was at a time when my life needed a major directional shift. My eyes are more than my windows; they are my guideposts. My sister has said many times, “I wish I could spend one day with your eyes, just to know what you see, and how you see it.”
Right now, these eyes are in the waiting space. The waves and fog are rolling in, but the answers aren’t there yet. It takes time for guideposts to appear when you’re surrounded by fog. Pausing requires a ton of patience, and I find sand helps. Not a lot of sand in Indiana, but it’s grey and windy outside. That’ll do.
Godspeed, my friends. To everyone trying to find their own guideposts, or just a chance to pause, Godspeed.
A Much-Loved Afterword:
A beautiful Grey Lady Chicken Box thank you to my housemates from Nantucket. They meet me there when it’s time to go, and while our addresses are spread across the eastern half of the US, they just seem to know how to love me. “Nantucket” means the same thing to Ruthie & Mia as it does to me, making us lifelong soul sisters. I say this time and time again, but I am never alone in my story; a grace of God for sho’.
The Chicken Box Gang at the actual Chicken Box in 1998. Do you see that gorgeous tan on my chest? Yeaaahhh…that’s CANCER. In 1998 it was club-worthy, but by 2009, that was ALL CANCER. Oh…sweet, sweet youth.
The Chicken Box Gang reunites in NYC in 2015.