The below is the piece I read at the Life in 10 Minutes event last night.
In 2018, my wife Andrea and I attended a Human Resources conference in Las Vegas. We opted to take a Jeep tour of the Grand Canyon during our limited downtime while in the area. Our guide, Richard, had white hair tucked underneath his ball cap. Richard let out a whoop as we rolled toward the Grand Canyon in a pink Jeep, a battle cry of “ADVENTURE!” A mantra he frequently repeated throughout the tour. At one point, I asked Richard, “Were you always an adventurer? Or did you once have a boring job like the rest of us?”
“Always an adventurer,” Richard declared.
A year after our trip, I’d just written a somewhat large check to a contractor who had refinished the front steps to our home and upgraded our decaying walkway when Andrea called me from Virginia, where she was on a business trip.
“Hey!” I answered.
“Hi!” Andrea replied, “Soooooo…Kathleen asked me if we’d consider relocating to Virginia.”
"Not to Lynchburg,” I replied with a snort.
“Well. Actually. It turns out that’s where they need me.” Andrea said.
“Lynchburg? Andrea – the name alone…” I protested, my brain Yankee and biased after over 2 decades of living in New England.
“It’s named after John Lynch – the founder of Lynchburg! He was Quaker!”
“Hmph,” I replied, already googling the origin of the name to verify Andrea’s assertion while encouraging her to interview for the opportunity even though the concrete hadn’t even set out front.
Six weeks later, we were fighting through Boston traffic to board a flight to Virginia for the 4th of July weekend of 2019 so I could check out the area before Andrea formally began the lengthy interview process. Having been raised in the flat Midwest, the Blue Ridge Mountains, a backdrop to the Lynchburg area, were astonishing, as was the fact that I could feel sweat rolling down my back while standing still outside.
One morning in late September, while I was visiting my mom in Illinois, Andrea received a formal job offer.
That morning, over coffee, I told my mom we were moving to Virginia the following March. After we’d let others know, my friend Margaret messaged me through Facebook, “So with your news about moving to Virginia, you should look up Anne Soffee. Just friend her on Facebook. She lives in Richmond. She’s a writer (legit published author), and she is a real estate agent. PLUS she’s hilarious.”
I did as Margaret suggested. Anne was hilarious. I was disappointed I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet or work with her.
I was excited about moving to the country and looked forward to downshifting the speed of my life. I daydreamed of beekeeping and raising chickens in our bucolic yard.
By the time Andrea and I had our goodbye party, whispers of COVID had begun in the media. I dismissed COVID as another strange thing like swine or bird flu that wouldn’t impact us.
With each of our cars loaded, Andrea and I headed south for our move to Lynchburg adjacent Forest. Andrea called me when we were in a crush of traffic inching past New York City. “I just got a call from Kathleen the office is closing down for at least two weeks due to a COVID exposure.”
Two weeks stretched into months.
Sequestered inside our new home, I read about how chickens can get things like bumblefoot, and bees can get mites. The entire bee colony can collapse. I decided against both chickens and bees.
We met our neighbors while walking our dogs. “How do you like Forest?” they asked.
“Well, we’ve only been to Kroger and the dump…” Andrea offered, trailing off.
Thirteen months after our move, Andrea was on the phone with the head of her department, Pam. Pam apologized for the background noise, explaining that movers were packing her belongings to move her back to New Jersey, where she had lived before moving to Richmond three years earlier. “Ah. Like when you had me and my family move to Virginia during a pandemic—and I never went into the office?” Andrea replied with uncharacteristic sass. Pam replied, “You’re right. We should talk about that. Reach out to get some time on my calendar next week. Let me know if you want to move back to Massachusetts.”
We didn’t want to return to the snow, taxes, traffic, and hustle of Massachusetts. But Richmond? Richmond was a possibility.
That same evening, I messaged Anne Soffee, “Hi Anne. I moved to Forest, Virginia, from Hudson, MA, last March. I learned 1) Moving during a pandemic is a bad idea and 2) I need to live in a less rural setting.
I thought back to our Grand Canyon guide, Richard. Richard had once led mule rides into the canyon. He had talked about how this job gave him the opportunity to watch people step beyond their comfort zones and grow from that. “A lot of people get close to something uncomfortable and turn around,” Richard said, adding that he’d witnessed people pressing through pain on the canyon trails and experience ‘happy pain’ - “Like giving birth.” Richard mused.
After 15 months of happy pain in the Lynchburg area, Anne helped find us a home on the north side of Richmond.