Why? “Why are you leaving your house, selling your cars, abandoning family, friends, and idle comforts for a world map, suitcase, and a backpack?”
That’s the question we hear most often. Some people express envy, others curiosity, and a few are merely incredulous at our careless approach to life. “Because we can.” is the simplest answer to the question “Why?” but that’s not all there is to it.
Peter and I have a friend, Norman, who just turned 93. Three years ago he invited us to lunch on a summer afternoon with an ulterior motive. He had a story to tell.
It was a story about a decision he made in 1960. At that time Norm owned a successful ad agency in Los Angeles. (He was one of the original Mad Men of that era.) His wife was an equally successful fashion designer for a noted sportswear brand. They lived the high life and had the trappings to prove it: a house with a coveted view, fancy cars, a nice boat, the right connections.
Yet they felt that something was missing in their lives.
So, they decided to make a radical change. Norm sold the business to his partner and his wife quit her job. They liquidated the house, cars, and boat. He ordered a 1960 Lancia Flaminia convertible in Italy and they flew over there to pick it up. For a solid year they drove around Europe – Monaco, Rome, Florence, Greece, Paris, London, and everywhere in between. Then they shipped the car home and wandered for another year in the Middle East and Asia until they’d spent all the money they’d put away.
Norm and his wife returned to California but life was never the same. Norm devoted himself to art. He opened a frame shop. He and his wife enjoyed more time together. Norman experimented with sculpture. He tried new techniques with paint and glass. Together they created beautiful artwork and prints that were purchased by collectors around the world.
Now aged 94, Norman is a teacher. He still holds twice-weekly classes in Life Drawing and Portraiture. He lives alone; his much-loved wife has been dead for twenty years. He struggles with painful health problems. He reads voraciously, consuming several books a week. But during his quiet moments, Norman said he drifts back in time to revisit that glorious adventure. It shaped his understanding of people, history, art, and culture. It opened him up to new opportunities and ideas. It changed the way he lived in a fundamental way.
When the story was told, Norm confessed that he invited us to lunch to convince us to go have an adventure that we’d never forget.
That lunch was four years ago but we never forgot the story. Now that Peter is retired and I have the opportunity to follow, we are going to take Norman’s advice. We’ll go to awaken from the dreamless sleep of life lived on autopilot. We’ll go make some memories to sustain us at the end of our time. We’ll go create a story to tell.
(We love you, Norman!)