87: Second Chance

87: Second Chance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Second Chance

For those who are willing to make an effort, great miracles and wonderful treasures are in store.

~Isaac Bashevis Singer

When my marriage of twenty-eight years ended, I moved from Ohio to Taos, New Mexico. It was an opportunity not only to start a new life but to finally design one that fit me. At fifty I’d realized that the first half of my life had belonged to everyone else. I decided the second fifty years would be mine.

Our two children had graduated from college and were on their own. The Taos house was in my name. When our home in Ohio sold, my husband and I split the money. My share was enough to allow me build a studio addition onto my New Mexico retreat.

I was a professional artist and planned to continue my artistic pursuits. But I determined my future life would be different from my past. I would have a new attitude. I used to say, “I do this kind of art. I don’t do that kind.” In my new life I would dispense with previous definitions of who and what I was, ignore all presuppositions about myself and simply stand back and see how I developed.

The decision was incredibly freeing — and frightening. What would I do if there were no better person in me trying to emerge? What if I were really as empty as I often felt? Years ago I’d begun to ask myself, “Who am I? Where am I going?” Now was the time to find out.

The separation from my husband had so unnerved me that for the first few weeks I found it difficult to walk in the house without losing my balance and bumping into furniture. I was dazed, a stranger in a strange place. It felt odd that no one was waiting for me to come home to cook a meal, no one cared about what I did, or would be upset, worried, or inconvenienced if I were late or didn’t come home at all.

In the past I’d done my best to be a loving and supportive wife and mother, but in doing so I’d restricted my own life. As a child I was frequently told that what I did or believed made my mother and grandparents unhappy. Because of those messages, I’d come to feel responsible for the wellbeing of everyone around me. That carried over into my married life and resulted in my putting my life on hold whenever someone indicated even a possible need for me. It took very little to make me turn my back on myself. Divorce had finally lifted that constraint from my shoulders.

Many evenings after my move I stood in my yard out on the Taos mesa, a cool breeze on my cheek, contemplating the mountains, sky, and vast space around me. The magnitude of the setting made me feel comfortably insignificant. It was as if I were nothing in the world, unable to hurt or disappoint others. It was refreshing. I had no power over, or responsibility to, anyone or anything other than my dog.

However, freedom brings its own demands. How was I going to use my new life? I began by designing the two-story studio space to add to the house. I contacted the home’s original builder. He agreed to take on the project.

Soon I realized I was spending an unhealthy amount of time watching TV while waiting for the studio to be completed, so I built a three-by-five foot Navajo loom, bought yarn from the local weaving supply store, and began the first of several rugs. This was another step into the unknown.

I joined an adult woodworking class at the local high school and learned to build and carve furniture. Before the class was over, I’d made a cabinet for an awkward space in the house. I began carving animals into the post at the bottom of my new studio stairway. I’d never done that before.

I’d been painting and drawing all my life. Now I was attracted by the idea of three-dimensional work. The Taos house was under construction when I bought it. At that time I was taking ceramic classes in Ohio and had the resources to make tiles for the kitchen backsplash and to paint and fire others for the bathrooms. Once in New Mexico, that equipment was no longer available to me, so I bought a kiln and clay. Since each floor of the new studio had a sink, I proceeded to make tiles for their backsplashes, then larger ones for the walls being built around the front yard.

In a class with a local potter I learned to construct modified tubular bodies for the clay figures I hoped to make and sell. After a few months, my work found acceptance in local galleries. I also produced and sold tiles with petroglyph designs. This was yet another path for me.

One summer I drove to Loveland, Colorado for classes in making bronze figures. My life expanded once more.

There were a few families on the mesa where my house was located. I was fortunate to be welcomed by an unpretentious couple. In Ohio, we’d had a neighbor who would gush about having given a perfect party with perfect food. I had kept my family healthily fed but was far from being a chef. After listening to that woman talk, I was paralyzed by the thought of inviting anyone to my house.

My new neighbor came as a blessing to me. She didn’t feel she had to put on a fancy meal. She just served dinner, whatever she had been planning to prepare. Company was welcome to join if they wished. She believed people and friendships were more important than the menu. She helped free me from my fear of social failure.

She and her husband also kept an eye on me in an unobtrusive way. I had never lived alone before and was afraid I’d die and no one would notice or feed the dog. We arranged a signal. If I hadn’t opened the bedroom curtains by noon, she would call to be sure I was okay. This simple arrangement added to my growing confidence.

Those years in Taos were filled with tremendous personal growth and exciting new experiences. I stopped limiting myself to fit the expectations of others. I ceased using phrases like “I should have” and “Why didn’t you?”

I grew naturally, fully, my spirit expanding with joy. I began to know who I was and came to accept and like myself as a person of value. I didn’t change the outside world very much, but the one inside me became filled with sunlight and confidence. Those years remain the most satisfying time of my life.

~J.C. Andrew

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