As I sit in another empty house, contemplating another move in just 3 days time, I marvel at how quickly our life seems to change. My husband, Chris, always says “Change can take a weekend or a lifetime”. For us, change seems to happen rapidly, without warning, and often through no prompting of our own. Things just seem to happen to us.
“Change can take a weekend or a lifetime”
On New Years Eve 2014, as we sat in front of a roaring fire ready to toast in another New Year, we reflected on the amazing memories we have made in Cornwall and pondered our hopes and dreams for 2015; with no idea of what lay just months ahead…
At the time my career was on the crest of a wave. I was an Independent Chair of Domestic Homicide Reviews. I also trained professionals on how to identify, assess and manage different types of high-risk domestic abuse. I was busy making plans to expand my consultancy business. Chris was also doing well at work. The charity he managed was going from strength to strength. Life was good. We were plodding along quite nicely.
Then a fleeting, yet profound moment changed how I felt about everything I thought I knew and wanted.
I met Noel Fitzpatrick, The Supervet.
Not by chance. We were invited to meet him at his veterinary practice in Surrey. Earlier in the year our daughter, Lola, had sent Noel a drawing and some photographs. Apparently, it had arrived on Noel’s desk late one evening when he had just lost a battle to save someone’s beloved pet dog. Feeling dejected and dismayed, he opened the envelope to find Lola’s drawing together with her words;
“Keep on saving animals”
It was the reassuring smile he needed in a dark room.
After a 5 hour drive to Surrey, the moment came when Lola met her hero. I was merely a supportive bystander. I had no idea, he was about to change my life irreversibly too.
I found myself entranced by Noel as he spoke so emotionally and candidly about his work and future aspirations. His energy, passion, compassion and motivation was hypnotic. There was something so compelling about his certainty.
If you have ever met somebody who knows exactly why they are here and what they want to achieve from life, you will know exactly what I mean.
In that moment, all I knew was that I wanted to feel like him. As much as it pained me to acknowledge it, I didn’t feel like that, and actually, I could not remember a time when I felt so alive and excited.
Immediately, I was overcome by guilt for daring to hold such selfish thoughts. Surely I should be grateful? I have a rewarding job, a good income, a great home and a lovely family. I should be happy, right?
I felt total despair.
All I knew, was that my previous life was no longer enough. I didn’t want to return to the status quo. Of that, I was certain.
I could not unsee what I had seen. I could not un-hear what I had heard. Turning back the clock was out of the question. I wanted to feel the same sense of purpose as Noel Fitzpatrick. And I wasn’t prepared to compromise.
We didn’t know it then, but this was the first catalyst for a significant change in ALL of our lives.
I can only describe the next few months as living in a fog. Everything seemed to fall apart. Once I decided the life I was living was no longer enough, a sense of urgency descended – The need for answers became overwhelming.
I was plagued by one question that I could not answer;
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
How many of us really know the answer to that? Or, if we do, how many of us actually try to achieve it? For me, I did not know the answer. It was buried deep under a mountain of social responsibilities and motherhood. Somehow, I had forgotten my own dreams.
But instead of frantically searching around inside my head, I decided to take long walks to try and reconnect with my dreams and aspirations. I figured there was no rush. The great outdoors would help me find the elusive answer.
But then life has a funny way of speeding things up if it thinks you are dragging your feet.
The next curve ball was heading our way…
Chris was to become the target of appalling human behaviour. Overnight his job became untenable and his career ended. Just like that. Everything he worked for; 8 years of hard graft, was over. With no second income, our security was suddenly at risk. We were about to lose everything, fast.
Some of our darkest days followed. Chris struggled with the betrayal of people he had respected and trusted. He could not comprehend their actions against his own values. As we contemplated homelessness, he hit rock bottom.
The pressure to find answers or do something became a necessity. It was urgent. I could not mope about contemplating happiness anymore; I needed to act quickly.
But in some strange way, despite the hideousness of our situation, our lives seemed to have reached a crossroad at the same time. For the first time ever, we were both in a position to think about what we really wanted to do.
So instead of acting out of fear or making knee-jerk decisions, we carried on walking and talking. We spent hours in the open countryside recounting old stories and memories. Sometimes we just stood on the hill and cried. Sometimes we sat in silence. Other times we ranted about the injustice of our ‘luck’.
Then, on a wild and windy day in June, whilst walking the dog, we climbed to the top of one of the white pyramids that overlooked the whole clay area in Cornwall. With our legs astride and our arms out-stretched we beckoned for Mother Nature to grace us with her best. As the howling wind threatened to knock us over, we leaned further forward, my hair whipping around me like an untethered sail and our clothing revealing a perfect outline of our bodies. The sound of Mother Nature unleashing her best was so deafening that I could barely make out what Chris was shouting, but I turned to see tears escape from his closed eyes and roll over his cheeks. I wasn’t sure if it was the ferocity of the wind or if he was moved by the poignancy of the moment. For I felt it too. As I raised my own arms and closed my eyes, the wind raged through us, as if cleansing us of our negative, downtrodden thoughts, and revitalizing us with fresh energy and clarity of mind.
Feeling completely alive, we commenced our slow walk home. Hand in hand we started to reminisce about our early wild romance and our dream of travelling Europe, recalling all of the places and sights we wanted to see together. As the door to our forgotten memories opened, I stopped walking and turned to Chris with a huge beaming smile – I was finally able to answer the question that had troubled me for so long…
“If I knew I could not fail, I would sell everything we own and travel the world with you!”
We found our answer! We wanted to travel – we always wanted to travel! Somehow, over the years, we had convinced ourselves that it was irresponsible, unachievable or an unattainable pipe dream – but there was no doubt in our minds now – “If we knew we could not fail, we would jack it all in and get the hell out of here”!
So that’s how we arrived at today. In three days time, we leave Cornwall in our New Motorhome, Colin.
On the 31st August, we leave the UK to travel Europe for a year with our two children and our dog, Buddy.
We sold everything we own to achieve it. In the space of two months, we settled an agreement with Chris’s ex-employer, removed our children from school and organised a huge open day to sell our worldly belongings.
It’s funny how happy I feel sitting on a mattress on the floor, writing this blog, knowing that the only thing I own is a 10-year-old Motorhome. I have been an avid collector of antique furniture for many years and I thought it would be tough seeing my beloved collections disappear at a fraction of the cost – but it wasn’t. In fact, it was liberating – almost cathartic.
As human beings, I think we stopped ‘being’ when we settled for ‘having’. My collection of antiques were a symbol of my need to ‘have’ nice things. It was almost like every piece of furniture I made or collected provided a momentary glimpse of happiness, that simply filled a void.
“As human beings, I think we stopped ‘being’ when we settled for ‘having’”
Letting go was like cutting the anchor to a life that was not meant to be. Seeing our possessions disappear into the horizon liberated us. We no longer feel the need to work stupid hours to fund a house and a car we do not own or fight to protect a lifestyle where success is judged on what we possess.
We are free to ‘be’.
So this adventure is about resetting as a family. Stripping back to basics and learning how to reconnect with what is important. Family and Time.
I hope you will follow us as we share our experiences with you.
If it all goes wrong – we already have no regrets!
See you on the other side,
The Cotter Family x