I once had the great good fortune of losing everything that had defined me — health, psychology practice, money, good credit rating, a house I loved. It all began with a freak accident that snowballed into a long hospital stay and a year of painful recuperation, an insurance company that refused to honor its commitment, a housing market that made my home unsalable, horrific medical bills, depleted savings and no income. To say it was a bad time of my life is like saying the sun is really hot.
I’m a big believer in affirmations, so I repeated a zillion times a day, “Divine right action is taking place in my life right now, bringing about the highest good for all concerned.” I had to keep it nonspecific because I had no idea which catastrophe to tackle first. The answer came in the form of an invitation from people I barely knew. They had recently moved to the south of France and had a big house with a spare bedroom I could rent. At first I said no, but they kept calling and urging me to do it, and bill collectors kept calling and snarling at me, and I kept remembering the story of the man who refused to leave his house when a flood had sent everybody else to higher ground. When a boat came for him, he said, “I’m staying here because God will save me.” The waters rose and he went upstairs. A second boat came, but he said, “No, God will save me.” The waters rose more and he went to his roof, where a third boat came. Again, he said, “I’m not leaving because I have faith that God will save me.” Then he drowned.
In heaven, he marched up to God and said, “What the hell? I believed in you and you let me drown!” And God said, “Dummy, I sent three boats!”
I thought the invitation to move to France might be my third boat, so I sold my car and furniture and jewelry, packed some books and my computer, and bought a one-way ticket to France. Within a month the people who’d invited me to live with them said they were returning to the states, and I was on my own. Again, I repeated with every breath, “Divine right action is taking place in my life right now, bringing about the highest good for all concerned.” This time the boat was a Belgian woman who offered to rent me her vacation home for the same amount I’d been paying for my friends’ spare bedroom. I moved in, she went back to Belgium, and for the next six months I relaxed into the beauty and rhythm of a small French village above the Cote d’Azur.
The air smelled of lavender, my garden was ringed with fat roses, my clothes line was strung between olive trees, and church bells chimed every hour and announced each birth, death, and wedding. Roosters woke me every morning and a neighbor brought me fresh croissant to go with my tea on the terrace. I wrote a book. I decided I’d rather write books than go back to being a therapist. I had a mild fling that allowed me to hear a man murmur, “Ma cherie.” I learned the difference between good food and fine food, learned not to fear butter. In that blessed place, my body and soul healed.
It isn’t true that you can’t run away from problems. Running away was the best thing I’d ever done. It gave me time and space for healing, for regrouping, and for defining what was most important to me. When it was time to come home, I returned with great gratitude for all the bad things that had happened that had caused me to run away. I don’t miss anything I lost in that awful time, and I will never again become so attached to any thing that it defines who I am. Now, while I greatly enjoy my home and the things I’ve filled it with, I know I could leave it all in a minute and not look back. When bad spots happen, you never know what greater thing might be waiting for you. And you might get fresh croissants brought to your door every morning.