My Dinner with Audrey
by Jeff Cuiule
I’ll admit it. I’ve lived most of my life as a card-carrying control freak.
I grew up believing that everything worth attaining in life could only be brought about by meticulous planning. I excelled at methodically setting goals for myself. Year after year, I mapped out a series of clearly defined objectives and reveled in conquering each and every one of them. Grades, career advancement, relationships, possessions. What a comfort to know exactly where you’re going and exactly how to get there. Or so I thought.
In the brilliant film "American Beauty" Lester Burnam sadly laments, "I’m not sure when my life became so…sedated." It was a line that hit very close to home. In the past few years I had come to question the grand design that I had drawn up for myself. Friends would ask what’s new and I’d be at a loss for a meaningful response – or even an interesting one. The city, once full of promise and excitement, began feeling tedious.
My wife Audrey and I were both working at breakneck speed, but seemingly unable to take a breather to examine what we were really working for. We both excelled at our careers but seemed to be striking out at making a meaningful life for ourselves.
Money was spent like water – justification for our hard work, if that makes any sense. Vacations were spent worrying about what we would return to. Friends and family turned into remote blips on the radar. Who had the time? We certainly didn’t think we did.
And most troubling, our relationship with each other had become as routinized and detached as a trip to the ATM machine. When did that happen?
To help uncover the answer to that question, we turned to a sage, counselor and friend, Ray Bergen. Once a week, we would bare our souls to him and each other, letting him drill down to our inner-most hopes and fears.
It was in these sessions that I made a startling discovery. The comforting lure of the familiar was paralyzing my life and my marriage.
For years, Audrey had been moving towards a less conventional, more spiritual way of thinking, a quest that set off all sorts of alarms in my head. After all, "the conventional route" afforded us a tremendous sense of financial security and purpose.
But it kept me from listening to my heart – and Audrey. And that was the lesson I needed to learn.
Slowly, I came to abandon my default mantra: "Don’t think about it, just keep doing what you’re doing…it’s going great." In its place, I learned a new one: "Without change, profound change, our lives are just passing by."
The person who helped open my eyes to the value of change also supplied the key to unleashing it. One fateful evening, last January, as both Audrey and I spoke to Ray about our dreams for the future, we learned that the fantasy we described seemed to match a very real place that Ray was familiar with near his home in upstate New York.
The place he described bore the exotic name of Mirabai, a spiritual bookstore in Woodstock. It had been on the market for quite some time, ever since the store’s proprietors, Anne and Tim, had divined their own path for change – moving to a virginal parcel of land in Northern Vermont and carving out a self-sustaining life there.
Mirabai seemed to hold the key to everything we were hungering for. A simpler lifestyle. The chance for Audrey and I to work together toward a common purpose. A magical mythical small town nestled in the mountains. We visited the store and felt captive to its simple charm and noble mission. The unfamiliar was not so scary when we both shared...
But the question remained, could we part with the past and all we knew to be safe and comfortable?
Late that evening, we returned to the city and went out for dinner. We talked about the opportunity that had suddenly landed in our laps. We talked intently, which we rarely had the time to do before. This would mean saying good-bye to a world of enormous lifetime security. Our accountants and lawyers would urge us to think over what we were sacrificing. What was beyond the horizon? This was a major leap of faith.
Then, somewhere between coffee and dessert it happened. We suddenly realized that this uncertainty actually felt good. It felt like living. It was that little curve ball that life had in store for us all along. It wasn’t what we were supposed to do, it was what we were meant to do. And, might I add, dessert never tasted quite so good.