Part Seven | Spiritual Writing, Teaching; Richmond, Washington DC, Western NY (2014–2018)

As 2013 was coming to a close, I was starting to focus on Jackson’s impending graduation. His older brother Charlie was already halfway to getting a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. Charlie had known from a young age that this was his path. He applied to only one college, got in, and off he went. When it was Jackson’s turn, he too only applied to one college, having long ago set his own sights on the University of Georgia. We were destined to become “a house divided.” Ever since, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when these rival schools go head to head in football, has been marked by trash-talking texts that are a riot.

Just after Thanksgiving, I received an inner green light telling me that I too could go. I gave my notice to Solvay and then stayed an extra month, having been asked to train my replacement and one other new hire in the healthcare group. I was happy to oblige.

In April of 2014, my parents and brother Jeff came down to Atlanta for a long visit. With Pete living in the city, now working as a massage therapist, it was a chance for all of us to be together. For all the difficult history we share, I feel we have all shown amazing fortitude and willingness to keep putting our best foot forward. We enjoyed one last hurrah in my house before I contacted a realtor and put it on the market in early May.

A logical person would think that at that point, I must have had a plan. In the traditional sense of the word, I did not. But I had something I considered even better: guidance and clear enough intuition to follow it. Following my gut as best I could, I put my life into the hands of the spirit beings I had consciously been learning so much from for the better part of twenty years, and I embarked on a journey of trust.

It wasn’t always easy. Some days, I had flashes of terror. What have I done?! But most days, I have worked to listen deeply within and follow where I am called to go. Actually, since quitting my day-job and putting my house up for sale, it’s been a case of “in for a penny, in for a pound.” There was no going back. I did make a call to the president of the Sevenoaks board to confirm that, in a pinch—like if my house sold in a day—I could probably stay at Sevenoaks, at least for a little while.

Because when I listed my house in early May, I didn’t yet know in which direction I would be headed. At the end of May, a friend of Jackson’s—who would be his college roommate in the fall—had a graduation party and a handful of parents were invited. Talking with the boy’s stepdad, I mentioned all that was going on, including my interest in possibly helping out at Sevenoaks.

Tom said, “Well, I’ve got a house in Richmond, Virginia I’m trying to rent.” Plink. I heard the nickel drop.

Kimberly and Cynthia threw me a lovely going away party when I left Atlanta. My home was filled with lots of great friends and both of my boys came. Charlie had been in a four-person competition that day at Georgia Tech, vying for top honors by building the robot that could most successfully perform certain tasks. Late in the afternoon, we got a text they’d made the first cut. By early evening, they’d made the finals. A short while later, his team won! iPads for everyone on the winning team!

Because Charlie is a dear, he still came to my party, deferring his own celebration until later. And because he’s a bright entrepreneur-in-the-making, by the time he left my house he had sold his iPad to his little brother for a tidy profit. This somehow explains a curious phenomenon I’ve witnessed over the years. Even though the boys received the same allowance, Charlie was always flush and Jackson was typically squeaking by.

As we went around the room, everyone said heartwarming things. When it was Jackson’s turn, he said, “My whole life, I have been trying to make you proud of me. But right now, I am so proud of you.” (Waterworks.) The support I have felt from both my sons to venture off into this next phase of my life’s journey has been priceless.

My former husband Rick has also been a gem throughout the years, stepping up for the boys and being a terrific dad. He and I have made great efforts to be cordial and kind for the sake of the boys, and that investment has returned sizable dividends over the years. Also, because Rick was pet-free at the time I moved to a house that didn’t allow pets, Rick became the lucky recipient of one of the best cats in the world, Henry, along with the stray cat who chose me—or inadvertently chose Rick—just one month before I left town. Those three have been thick as thieves ever since.

Not long before I left Atlanta, I was feeling called to do a piece of inner cleanup work. It felt like there was still a tear in the fabric of my life related to that first marriage. A year or so after I got sober, I had sent Scott a letter to say I was sorry. It was an attempt to make amends for how I had behaved and how I had left things with him. I never heard back from him, so was never sure my message had been delivered.

Now, through some sleuthing on the Internet, I came up with a book his sister had written about their dad; I got a copy and read it. I also found the obituary for his friend Scott McLean, who had recently passed; his girlfriend in college, Kristin, was a fellow-cocktail waitress and good friend of mine at the bar.

Eventually, I found an address for Scott and sent another letter. This time I heard back. I had the sense he was indeed still holding onto hard feelings. I was sorry that someone I once cared deeply about would have carried that for all these years. In the end, I was glad I had made the effort and reached out. Life is a process, not a product, and I had done the next right thing. But we’re not in control of other people or how they respond to our overtures. I had done the best I could.

Before I had put my house up for sale and had been casting around for what would be next, I made the offer to work at Sevenoaks as center manager for half a year, for free. For reasons I can’t explain, since the place was a tad rudderless without someone in charge fulltime, no one took me up on my offer.

Here’s something else I can’t fully explain: At one point, I thought I might actually buy Sevenoaks. I was still working at Solvay, but nearing the end of my time there. The Sevenoaks Board of Directors, which I was part of, was kicking around the idea of selling the center. It’s owned and operated by the Mid-Atlantic Pathwork, but with so little ongoing Pathwork activity, nearly all of the renters at the time were for nonPathwork groups. In short, we were a nonprofit board, volunteering tons of hours to run a commercial retreat center that barely broke even.

One day, in the midst of all that, an inner voice said into my inner ear: ‘I am going to buy Sevenoaks.’ That one was a show-stopper. But I had gotten to know this voice by now, and when it spoke, I listened. A small committee was forming to investigate all that needed assessing if we were to sell, and I raised my hand to head it up. I wanted to have my finger on the pulse if this really was going to happen.

One of the first questions that needed to be answered was: What’s the place worth? This was a tricky question. The property was subject to a nature conservancy agreement that greatly restricted what could even be done with it. Further, many of the buildings were in need of significant maintenance, after so many lean years in a row.

The board met with an experienced realtor from the area who gave us some good insights. But in the end, a property is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. This property has some very nice features, including a gorgeous view of the Shenandoah Mountains and a history of having so much deep spiritual work done there. We liked to say it was “spiritually seasoned.” In big round numbers, according to our thumb-in-the-air methodology, it was worth significantly more than one million dollars, and significantly less than two million.

I had read in the paper a few months back about a company that could help a person start a new business and, in compliance with existing ERISA tax laws, buy a business using funds in their 401(k). I had a decent enough 401(k) balance, and so I wrote a proposal for what I could offer—it was admittedly a benevolent low-ball offer—and how I would make the center into what I hoped could become a thriving Pathwork center again.

It fell on deaf ears. It was never even presented to the board for discussion. In subsequent talks with the people involved, they said they were trying to protect me. What I don’t understand is, protect me from what? From my own ignorance? From my own incompetence? Or perhaps from the fact that this place was a money pit that I might rather not have on my inventory list.

When all was said and done, I felt I probably dodged a bullet. My brother had lived there, so I knew the ins and outs of the place through him. It needed work. We also both knew that, like my dream house in Atlanta, it had a high Fall-in-Love Factor. Pete and I still both loved the place, warts and all.

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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