A few people have been posting stories of acts of kindness they’ve been on the receiving end of over on the Facebook page for this project and I’ve been trying to think of a story to share, somehow missing the most obvious one of all.
Thirteen years ago, Sage and I were living in Bethlehem, PA. I had a job where I would drive hours to work, work long hours and then come home only to do it all over again. I enjoyed the work, and didn’t mind the drive, but once we knew our son was on the way, that changed pretty quickly. I knew I didn’t want to be the kind of dad that peeked in at a sleeping baby when he left for work, and then peeked back in at him when he got home from work. And so I looked for a job locally and took a 25% pay cut that gave me a relatively steady 8-4 job and a 15 minute car commute (and soon, I found, a 30 min bus commute) to work. When my son arrived, I could see how bad it would’ve been to be in my previous job. But it took a 5 day business trip out of town when he was 2 months old to show me that I still had things that I wanted to change. The trip itself was fine. Sage’s mom was staying with us so she had support at home. However, when I got home, it was clear I’d made a mistake. 2 month old Daegan was upset that I had left and didn’t really want to be held by me for several days after I returned. Unsurprsing, looking back, as I’d spent 8% of his ENTIRE LIFE away from him. To do that now, I’d have to go on a year long business trip without being in contact with him.
The experience got me thinking about what my priorities in life were. I’d recently read a lot about voluntary simplicity, and some of Helen and Scott Nearing’s writing. I’d also spent some time visiting Sage’s mom, Kite, on the land where she lived, with several other women in various simple buildings with only the barest of needs and lots of time to spend how they wanted because they didn’t have to work all the time to pay for the things they lived without: cable television, new car payments (to get them to work), high rents (to live near work). I figured someday I would break the cycle and quit my job, buy some land outright, and live as simply as I could and work only when I needed. I figured if I worked really hard in 5-10 years (read: right about now), I would be able to live simply and independently and have whole days to spend with my family. Kite, then living in a tipi when she was back home in Missouri asked what I was waiting for. I told her I had to pay off my car loan, save up money to buy some land outright and build a shelter with, pay off the little credit card debt I had, and otherwise get everything perfectly in order financially before heading out. Her response was simple: “There’s a whole community of people who want you to be happy.”
Over the next few weeks we figured out just how true that was. First off, a friend of ours who had just moved to a home on 40 acres in the woods there said we could live on their land. Then, another friend of Kite’s drove up in a van, helped us pack and clean the house and then drove with Sage’s mom and our then, 8 cats to Missouri while me, Sage, and 5 month old Daegan took the train to our new home in Missouri.
Within a few months our 401k money had bought us a yurt that we put up in the woods on our friend’s land. Kite helped us out financially when we first lived there while we figured out what we’d do to support ourselves. Kite and her friends helped us learn how to do what it took to live without electricity and running water – how to gather and heat with wood, how to deal with our waste, how to cook on a fire, and then how to install a gas stove so we could cook inside the yurt. We ended up spending the first two years of Daegan’s life living in the yurt and were able, during that time, to get by comfortably on as little as $300/month. That meant for those two years, neither Sage nor I ever had to do more than 10 hours/week of work (web design for Sage, tech writing for me), and sometimes quite a bit less.
For a number of reasons, we eventually moved from the yurt to a home in the nearby village. We were able to maintain our lifestyle the same way there, spending most of our time parenting, and working enough to meet our basic needs (and, admittedly, a few luxuries like trips to the ‘big city’ of 60,000 people where we could use a large library or have a sushi dinner as a treat).
Sadly, the economic climate changed for us as independent web developers and I ended up having to work more and more back in my old industry of pharmaceutical regulatory compliance. Eventually, I ended up having to go back to work full time. However, that was only after we’d had four years to ourselves as a family with not one, but two at-home, parents, and time to spend with our friends and family as well. And I couldn’t have done it without the kindness of my mother in law, Kite, encouraging us to take a leap into the unknown and promising to help us once we did, for our friend, also named Daegan, who helped us land on our feet in a life completely alien to us, and to the community that adopted us once we got there, making sure we didn’t starve, freeze, or die of our own sheer incompetence in our first few months in a whole new situation. This not only changed my life, making me a very different person than who I was before I started that experience, it helped in great part to make Daegan the boy who he is today.
(For more info about our time in the yurt, including blog entries from the entire experience, you can go here.)