Now in our 50’s it seems every decade has been ushered in by a fork in our life’s path that forced us to transform and make choices, leading us in a new direction. Each time we emerged better, smarter, stronger and happier. In the moments that brought us to our knees the sun would suddenly poke out of a cloud and a new path would emerge. It feels like we are now on such a path, an amazing life journey.
I will turn 51 just two days after we start our trip, Janet just turned 55, our daughter will turn 25, our son is 22 and next summer (June 2017) we will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in Italy. Meeting these milestones in our lives has also forced us to deal with tumultuous change and adversity. In a 15 month span we’ve been impacted by cancer too many times. Sadly, we’ve lost six friends. Most were our age, in the prime of their lives, never getting the chance to enjoy retirement and the fruits of their years of labor. We had conversations with more than a few, lamenting about the years of saving and sacrifice, worried about a retirement that would never come, dreams and ambitions that would never be fulfilled. Cancer took them all out quickly, it’s a horrible disease that doesn’t discriminate and when it hits so close to home you wonder if you’re next. It forced us to examine our lives, where we are at, where we want to be, what do we want to accomplish, what are our dreams?
On top of losing friends we both also lost jobs that we each had for over 15 years. Jobs, kids and finances always seem to be a focus of each decade transition, now death is a part of the change. This whole journey must be part of a grand plan the universe is laying out for us, we can feel all those lost friends pulling strings for us from the other side. It’s uncanny how things have brought us to a point that feels like a new beginning and we are excited as can be about the future.
I believe everything happens for a reason. It all started for me when a new manager joined the company I had worked at for 15 years and began implementing sweeping changes. Due to an injury and overwhelming stress, I decided to take a step back with some time off work. During my time off many of my co-workers were let go or quit, some with over 20 years of service to the company! 7 let go in 1 month! The writing was on the wall, I had a decision to make about my future.
6 months into my work leave our wonderful friend Sheri was diagnosed with cancer. This was my first experience with cancer and through Sheri, my life was changed. Sheri and I talked lots about how everything happens for a reason….since I was off work, I could hold her hand and walk lovingly with her on this difficult journey – what a blessing! She said I would be thanked after she was gone- she would try to pull some strings for me with my work and future adventures (we talked about travel lots!). Sheri believed her time left was a gift from God, to be able to say goodbye to all those who loved her. She was blessed with many friends and showed us all a strength and courage beyond expectation. She found her focus to battle this cancer in the hope that she’d be able to make both her son’s weddings that fall. Two days before she passed, Sheri found out she was going to be a grandmother for the first time but we knew by then she’d never make the weddings or meet her grandchild. All this punctuated our sadness and I think forced many of the people around her to evaluate their own lives and priorities. Sadly, Sheri’s battle was over in a short 5 months.
True to her word, Sheri has been ‘pulling stings’. On the day that was to be her 61st birthday, after a couple of months of stressful negotiation, I received a severance package from work and would begin a new life journey.
At the same time I could see the beginning of the end for my 15 year career, an end that was hastened by the worst downturn in Alberta in over 30 years. I was a 100% commissioned Sales Rep directly affected by the oil and gas industry that has seen an estimated over 40,000 people lose their jobs. I enjoyed this job, was very good at it and it had rewarded me with an income and time off that allowed us significant travel in the past. What would the future hold for us now and how were we going to reinvent ourselves?
How the plan came to be…
We needed to re-charge and re-evaluate so we decided to go on vacation to Palm Springs, California with another couple. Janet and Heather went out a week earlier and Dennis and I were to join them for the last week. Sheri was pulling strings again- 3 days before Janet was to leave, she received a job lead from a friend she and Sheri had worked with 20 yrs ago (thanks Pat!). Janet had followed up on the lead and was hoping to secure an interview. Interviews were supposed to happen in the next 2 weeks, she told them she didn’t want to miss the interview but was going to be away. We were worried that she had missed the opportunity but Janet received a text while in Palm Springs, ‘relax and enjoy your trip, the interviews are postponed!’ Amazing! Janet called to tell me the good news, I was excited and relieved to hear that it was still a possibility. If she got the job it was for just one year covering a maternity leave.
That night I was soul searching and mulling about our future when all of a sudden an idea began to gel in my head and I started to vibrate with excitement! If she were to get this job, by the time it ended we’d both be unemployed and maybe an opportunity instead of adversity. Maybe a chance to travel and pursue the dream we always had of spending a year in Italy, something we were saving for retirement but a retirement we’d maybe never see. Something we’d never have the courage to do if it meant quitting good jobs and walking away, but if the universe was speaking to us? I thought, if Janet gets this job we could start to save and plan for a year away. A few days later, Dennis and I joined the girls in Palm Springs and we enjoyed a great and restful week in this desert paradise. After a few days of relaxing and a few cocktails I sprung my crazy idea ‘lets spend a year in Italy’. I don’t think Janet thought I was really serious, I wasn’t sure either but the idea was put out for the universe to manifest and manifest it did!
The universe was speaking louder and louder, all the obstacles that could have changed our plans were removed one by one, cementing our time for a year abroad. Janet landed the job, that landed in her lap, ( a completely different industry than the past 25 years, she loves it and is being quite successful) they even extended her contract another 6 months until we leave. My job ended, I was able to negotiate a package (something that’s never happened for us commissioned sales people) and I’m now happily on temporary retirement until we leave for our year away in September.
Our travel dreams and the launch of this blog were birthed from a series of tragedies and minor miracles. Having followed many other bloggers it seems to be a common theme as many of their beginnings came from tragedy and we are no different. It’s the human story but we can all learn from each other, the fragility of life, the need to live fully and in the moment, to listen to that inner voice, to see the signs and minor miracles all around you and to embrace your dreams!
Here’s an article that ran in Metro News about our travel inspirations.
Live, Love & Laugh….
Mark & Janet