This Last Year Has Been, Well, You Know…

Actually, these might be plantains.

This week is filled with mileposts. Monday marked one month since we first arrived in Costa Rica. The time has gone fast. But it has meant some serious adjustments to the pace of life.

One thing I like about this life is that the focus of each day is very much on the needs of that day. What food do we need to get? What household goods do we need to look for? Who did you meet today? What kind of bird is that? Are we walking the 45 minutes each way to the bigger stores at Santa Elena today or can we get by with what we can get at the smaller stores nearby? Do you think it’s going to rain? It seems like so much time in our old lives was spent on future plans, accomplishments, or needs. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a necessary fact of life, but we often wasted little attention or wonder on the present hour. I like living more in the now, in the incarnate moment.

Believe it or not, the transition has been a little rougher on Jean. Yes, the Spanish speaker has had a wee bit of a rougher time. You see, she has always been a “to-do list person.” Often in our old life, I would ask her how her day went or how she was doing, and her reply would be, “I’m getting stuff done!” She admits that her value as a person has been blatantly tied to accomplishment and productivity. Don’t get me wrong, there are still things that must get done, but life here moves much more slowly and in ways that are more enjoyable for those who can be content in the now. But she is adjusting like a champ and appreciating the shift in priorities. She’s starting conversations with strangers in coffee shops and meeting amazing women while making pottery and going to Yoga class. I honor the privilege of being able to witness Jean’s transition from doing to being.

She is seriously into brandishing that pot.

Today (Thursday) is another milepost: it is one year since my father died from COVID. He passed so quickly and so far away and in the midst of such a time of crisis that in many ways, it still doesn’t seem real to me. A part of me still thinks I can pick up the phone and hear his voice. No funeral or family gathering was possible, of course. No hugs or stories or closure. He was cremated and interred next to my mother who had passed 5 years earlier. At least I trust that is what happened. Nobody was there to witness it. After a significant lifetime that included military service; fishing vacations that produced alarmingly little fish; a long career in banking; community service on boards for foster care review, the Phoenix Symphony, and the Barrow Neurological Institute; and close friends and family scattered across the country, in the end, it seemed to me as though he just vanished into the ether without fanfare.

Among the family photos we managed to cram into our luggage is this one of my father.

He was often a bit stiff and awkward when posing for family photos, but this cheesy promo shot for his retirement community managed to capture him in an authentic moment of joyful laughter. Believe me, he wasn’t that good an actor. In the family, we all have decided that it captures him the way we remember him. As his sister remarked, “You can hear his laugh.”

This week, I find myself musing about how much has changed in this past year—both the painful and the good. Over that time, I lost my job, my father, my mother-in-law, and my dog. But we also completely reinvented our life in wild and wonderful ways. Several times here I have wondered what Dad would make of all of it. But to be honest, I don’t think we would be where we are today were it not for this past year.

Many of you may remember a Dunkin’ Donuts TV ad that ran from 1981 all the way to 1997. In the ad, an alarm went off in the early morning darkness and a sleepy-eyed Fred the Baker would begin his mantra: “Time to make the donuts.” The ad was meant to highlight the hard work and dedication that went into making a world-class product, but I believe its place in the American zeitgeist was because it struck a chord with many people’s zombie-like addiction to a grueling routine that saps the soul and rarely delivers the reward and satisfaction that are supposed to accompany the American Dream. “Time to make the donuts” was symptomatic of a life spent on a repetitive, mind-numbing hamster wheel of meaningless activity. In this ad, many Americans felt seen.

Jean and I had dreamed and schemed for years about retiring abroad one day. But for all our big talk, I’m not sure we ever would have awakened from the safety of our “time to make the donuts” routine had it not been for COVID. Would I have quit the security of a well-paying job with healthcare? Would we have left our parents behind in their later years? We certainly couldn’t have made the trip with a 17-year-old dog.

If anything, the pandemic, and all the loss we suffered as a result, triggered a rebooting of our human operating systems. We were now free. We took the red pill. We were not going back to “making the donuts.” We were awakened, inspired to find a better way of living.

I am no longer one to animate God into human form as one who plans out the circumstances of our life for the purpose of getting us to do something. I believe God can be found no matter where you go or what you do. And obviously, one is not required to move halfway around the world to awaken to new inspiration. But I believe that waking up requires a good shaking. The mystics refer to it as “order, disorder, reorder.” Religion calls it “life, death, resurrection.” I believe the pandemic provided the push that propelled us out of our ordered nest, launched us into chaos, and inspired us to discover flight. For us, that meant Monteverde.

Inspiration comes in many forms. It often comes from the people we look up to or from a skill we desire to master because it fuels our passions. For us, inspiration happened to come from sorrow and brokenness. I highly recommend the former rather than the latter, but if you find yourself walking that painful, lonely road, I urge you not to look for quick fixes or shortcuts leading to a less painful path. Walk it out. Allow it the time to teach and lead you. Allow it even to inspire you to awaken to a new way of living.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for indulging me this introspective post. It’s just where I’m at this week. I promise to get back to more things Costa Rica. We plan to start doing some of the touristy things that we were in no hurry to do when we first arrived. Canopy bridges. Sloths. Coffee and chocolate tours. Volcanoes and lava-warmed hot springs. Beaches! It’s all coming. In the meantime, I urge you to reach out and connect with the important people in your life this week—especially those who are older. The day will come when you would give anything to just pick up the phone and hear their voice.

Pura vida.

Published by Tom Cox

Tom & Jean, a couple of contemplative ex-pats from Pittsburgh, shed all their earthly belongings and move to Costa Rica. What could possibly go wrong?

5 thoughts on “This Last Year Has Been, Well, You Know…

  1. Yinz are my heroes. I’m loving living vicariously through your adventures. Getting to where you are well… This was a touching and inspiring piece on many levels. I don’t know your dad, but can’t help thinking he would proud that you’re living the dream. Carpe diem, friends!


  2. Great post! This resounds with me as I deal with my life of the past 30 years heading into vast uncharted waters. I will remember to be in the moment, and not seek easier softer ways.


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