Bumped off the treadmill of life

“Sometimes we assume that normal is the treadmill in the direction that we’re going. When you have this bump that takes you off your track, sometimes you realize, that wasn’t the path I was supposed to be on anyway.”

That’s what a woman lawyer told me when I interviewed her recently for an article for the Oregon State Bar Bulletin. It was a follow-up article of one I wrote for the same publication just before my move east, during the pandemic.

For the original June 2021 article, “Demands Drive Women to the Brink,” I interviewed a dozen Oregon lawyers (including just one man), about how they were coping with Covid. As might have been expected, all reported that their lives were in chaos, thanks to the unprecedented demands of remote work, home schooling, caretaking of youngsters and elders and at-home confinement of entire families during lockdown.

The update

For the update, I interviewed eight women. Nearly all reported major life changes since the pandemic. One got a divorce, one took early retirement, several switched to part-time work, and two stopped practicing the law altogether.

The woman who described her metaphorical bump off the treadmill had realized she was shortchanging her personal and family life by continuing to pursue her legal career. So she gave it all up and retired.

When I told the editor what I was hearing from the eight women, he was truly surprised. He had certainly expected resilience from these polished professionals, but the news that many of them had radically redesigned their personal and work lives came as a shock.

The take-away

The main point of the story was that most of these women reported that since readjusting their lives, they had never been happier. But until the pandemic turned their lives upside down, they hadn’t seen the folly of trying to maintain the status quo of a life that wasn’t satisfying to them.

I thought back to how I handled the pandemic and the lifestyle changes I made. Of course, it was no small thing that I left my birthplace to make a new home in the Midwest. Now I live next door to my son and his family, so in some ways it’s like I never left home. But the lesson of these Oregon women lawyers (and some ex-lawyers, now) is a good reminder to occasionally check if you’re steering your treadmill onto the right path in life — or if you’re due for a wake-up bump.

He Ain’t Heavy

My brother died a year ago. Or was it a little more than a year ago? Or a little less?

All we know for sure is that the police, responding to a welfare check requested by my sister, broke down his kitchen door on Halloween Day and followed the smell to his bedroom, where he’d been lying dead for weeks. As long as a month, the police surmised, but judging from the recollections of friends who last spoke to him, probably longer.

David P. Hauser Oct. 1949 – Oct. 2022

What I know for sure is that he failed to send me a birthday card on September 25. It was not like him to forget a birthday, and he usually sent one of the cards that various wildlife organizations had sent him as thanks for his generous donations.

I thought of calling, but then worried that it would sound rude: “Where’s my birthday card?” A few weeks passed before I sent him a newsy email without mentioning the birthday he had missed. No answer.

So it wasn’t until Halloween, when my sister called from Portland to tell me the results of the welfare check she had requested, that I learned that David Paul Hauser, my little brother, had died all alone in his secluded rural home.

A few years earlier, before my move to Indiana, he and I had gone hiking along the Columbia River. As we trudged along he casually asked if I would serve as his executor. At age 72, he thought it was time he made a will. He also told me he would name me as a beneficiary.

So, a few months after his body was discovered, I flew to Portland to attend his memorial, to meet with the lawyer and tour David’s house with a Realtor. The house, ready to be sold, bore no evidence that my brother’s decomposing body earlier had lain in the back bedroom.

David was a very caring and generous man but when it came to his own health, he was negligent. He had recently been diagnosed with diabetes, but he told my sister he had trouble changing his lifestyle. From all appearances, he did not watch his diet or take prescribed meds. The last people who talked to him said he sounded confused and disoriented. Apparently, as he began to slip into a diabetic coma, he lay down on his bed, never to rise again.

After David’s memorial, my son, Cory, and I took possession of David’s truck in order to drive it to our home in Indiana. Entrusted to me were his cremains, the several pounds of bone fragments remaining after his body was cremated. My sister had already poured some of them into the soil at his home in Amboy, Washington. Cory and I decided to take the rest of David on a final road trip (an activity he loved), leaving parts of him in different locations along the way.

Our first David deposit was in Washington State, on the east side of the Columbia River after it turns northward. Next we scattered some of the cremains on a snow bank in the mountains of Idaho. In Montana a meadowlark sang as we left David in a field near the town of Rosebud. Early one morning, in sub-zero weather, we left a bit of David in Fargo, North Dakota.

We hurried to get back home, never stopping to continue our task in either Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois, arriving late that afternoon in Chesterton, Indiana. I took home with me the rest of David, promising to find a perfect spot for the remains of the cremains.

I didn’t attend to it until after David’s estate had been closed this July. I had many months earlier requested that the post office forward all his mail to me, so I had been getting almost daily reminders that he needed a final resting place in the form of scores of solicitation letters from the many organizations he had supported. The letters requested that he buy a heifer for a village in Africa, that he pay for an indigent person’s Thanksgiving meal, that he pay vet bills for abused pets, that he continue to support the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood and other liberal causes, and of course to continue his subscriptions to magazines supporting wildlife, national parks, birds, etc. The oddest request, I thought, was for him to sponsor Holocaust survivors. I can’t imagine there are too many left to sponsor, but I assume David gladly contributed to that cause too.

My brother’s sixth and final resting place, with a lovely view of Lake Michigan

On a clear and sunny summer day I leashed my dogs, placed the bag of cremains in my back pack and drove the five miles from Chesterton to Indiana Dunes State Park. After a short hike, bearing my brother on my back, I found a high dune overlooking Lake Michigan. I thought David would have loved the view. The dogs rested in the cool sand as I furtively dug a hole and then dumped the small amount of cremains into the embrace of a sand dune.

Thinking of my brother now lying in various places along two-thirds of the width of the nation, a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet comes to mind, as Juliet wishes that after Romeo’s death he will become a multitude of stars and shine down from above.

Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night, Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Dear David is now mixed, not with stars, but with soil and sand, so that he will make the face of earth so fine . . . 

Hello Chesterton, Bu-bye Portland

Today marks six months since I arrived at my new home of Chesterton, Indiana. Along with my daughter, Meriwether, and my dog, Matilda, I drove the 2,000 or so miles from Portland, Oregon to a small town about 40 miles east of Chicago. Portland was the city of my birth and my lifetime home, except for a few sojourns in places like Chicago and Istanbul.

Road Trip! Meriwether, Matilda and me.

My main reason for leaving home was that my son, Cory, had settled in Chesterton with his wife and daughter, moving there during the pandemic to be closer to Katie’s family. But soon a son was on the way and Cory wanted his side of the family to be better represented.

My other reason for leaving home was that I was sick at heart over what had become of Portland. As a writer, the subject of Portland had long been my bread and butter. I had written so many glowing accounts of my hometown and its denizens for the likes of People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that I was given an award from what was then the Portland Oregon Visitors Association (now Travel Portland) for bringing our town to the attention of a national audience.

But by the time I left, I barely recognized Portland as the place I had loved to brag about in my articles. Every time I drove downtown past boarded-up businesses and destroyed city landmarks, I was filled with anger at the feckless city officials who had looked the other way during our downtown’s ruin, and grave disappointment that a place with such promise and beauty had been allowed to collapse.

With no regrets, I left Portland behind and set my sights for Indiana.

Grandma with Octavia and Quintus

Now that six months have passed, I can report that I have never been happier. I’m delighted to be grandma to Octavia and Quintus, and although my surroundings are much different from the tall trees and snowy mountains I loved seeing in Portland, I’m impressed by the beauty of Northwest Indiana, especially the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan.

Also, it hasn’t been difficult to find new subjects for my writing. There are interesting stories everywhere and already I’ve profiled a local hiking enthusiast for AARP the Magazine and have been a contributing writer for the local newspaper, The Chesterton Tribune.  

I never imagined I would move away from Portland. But now, even while in the throes of my first Indiana winter, I’m sure glad I did.