Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh,no, Not an Identity Crisis

I am 61, and I am having an identity crisis. Yes, we are thrilled we have finally sold Sweetwater Farm, but I now realize how much that home was my identity. Instead of work or even family, Sweetwater Farm was my identity, becoming that almost the minute we moved there in 1997. Leaving our home of only three years in Shaker Heights was a surprising thing to do, and many friends could not understand the draw. After all, it was far from the city, necessitating a long commute for Bruce, and what was I going to do out there?

Well, that attitude quickly subsided, for building on the peace and spirit already present at Sweetwater Farm, we created shelter and sanctuary; a place where people felt privileged to spend time. Visiting us became an event, a ritual, a retreat. Our life there with the gardens and pond, the century home filled with antiques, the barn housing our personal petting zoo --llamas and sheep and geese and goats, and donkey and chickens, oh my-- was what people say they want. We lived the fantasy for many.

Our work blended into Sweetwater Farm, as well, for this was where Bruce could restore and find balance for his work as a hospice medical director, and Sweetwater Farm was where, by and large, I did my work--meeting with spiritual direction clients, holding retreats and classes, preparing my classes and groups, writing. All we did seemed to benefit from and reflect our life there. In fact, I included a description of Sweetwater Farm on my marketing materials and in my introduction to groups and, of course, the annual Christmas letter always included accounts of the current animals and views from our windows.

Once we moved to Madison the identity lived on, but was not always well-received. Last fall I offered a workshop at an end of life conference here and was criticized on the evaluation form because I had mentioned we were trying to sell our Ohio farm. Was anyone interested? The person felt I was marketing it and that was not appropriate in that setting. I just thought I was sharing who I am--the farm as identity. I felt the sting.

So now what? We have indeed sold the farm, and no one in our new life here has ever been to Sweetwater Farm and knows us as its stewards. Yes, we love our new home, for we are people who create home wherever we are. Home is where we give our time, attention and money, and this home already illustrates that. We tend to choose unique homes and settings and "The Muir Manse," named for our street, (See, we've already conceived an identity!) is no exception, for it is located in an interesting New Urbanism development, created by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. However, I don't think this house will be our identity in the way Sweetwater Farm was. If not the house, then what?

I think I have a fairly clear notion of who I am, although I keep polishing, honing, clarifying, trying to live to that promise, and attempting to uncover my essence. What is unclear to me, however, is what will define my time and attention and energy here. What will be my call here? I don't want to give the impression I am doing nothing with my time. I love the writing group and the book discussion class I attend, as well as being a volunteer at the arboretum's bookstore. I am even enjoying being part of a program dedicated to creating a healthier lifestyle. I have taught a labyrinth workshop for a cancer support center and look forward to working there more in the future, and I am starting a spirituality group for women of my age. Plus, there are always the half-written books lurking in my office. And the grandchildren only 4 hours away. I fill my time, but I don't have a theme yet.

Perhaps my new identity will look like a patchwork quilt. Bits and pieces all put together in a new pattern. I guess I am just surprised to be in this position. Who knew at age 61 I would be in the midst of another identity crisis. How many have there been in these 6 decades and, I wonder, how many more will there be? Stay tuned.


  1. Dear Nancy, having been to Sweetwater Farm I can definitely understand your lament. When you left I (as I'm sure many others)wondered how you could leave! But I am happy you are a one mortgage family of course. And as I always tell my daughter - women never stop reinventing themselves! Happy identifying time!

  2. Dear Nancy,

    Congratulations on Sweetwater Farm passing along to the next family to love her!

    Thank you so much for following the "nudge" to write a blog.

    I took the time this evening to read and re-read ALL of your wise, moving, sacred postings, and I'm enriched anew because of the ways you share how you honor God in your life.

    Thank you, thank you!

    Bless your beingness and your listening for where to place your passions as your new identity unfolds. How about "being Nancy" ?


  3. It’s my first comment on your Blog, and I will begin by saying I agree with Joy that your posts are wise, moving and sacred. I enjoy reading them, and they remind me of our little Sunday group in Ohio, and the many blessings that flowed from those gatherings.

    Regarding identity, I think that our identity is a very different thing than the place where we live, no matter how special the place. Personal identity is a set of characteristics, that sameness of essential characteristics which exist for each of us in all circumstances. The person I know as “Nancy” is identifiable no matter where I find her.

    Our homes are places where we can express some aspects of our identities. We can make them artistic or plain, cluttered or tidy, welcomingly open or closed. We can use our homes to display aspects of who we are. But they are not us. If they flood or burn or we move away, the homes we live in only shelter our identities. It is the old adage that wherever you go, there you are.

    Although in an incredibly lovely location, it was your unique identity that created the beautiful and welcoming place that was Sweetwater Farm during your tenure there. I can imagine another woman living there who would not have made the house into such a sacred and welcoming home--no gardens, no gathering room, no Nest. YOU are the one who created a home of shelter and sanctuary where people felt your deep commitment to the spiritual aspects of life; where people felt comfort and ease, created by your loving hospitality which is a characteristic of your identity.

    I don’t think you’re having an identity crisis, Nancy. Rather, as a recent transplant to a new city, there are few people there who know anything real or deep about you. But because you are not known by new people does not mean that you have lost your identity or that you have to create a new one. You have only left the old venue and you are in the process of building the new. In time the real “Nancy” will be known by a new community of neighbors and friends. The setting will be different, but the woman who lived in the sacred place known as Sweetwater Farm will remain the same

  4. Hi Mom,

    At the Camp du Nord Women's Retreat, I took a three part enneagram workshop and now can soundly say, "You are SUCH a 4!" I'm a 3, by the way, but you probably have figured that out. I love that you are continuously searching to learn more and reinvent yourself while continuing to remain wonderful YOU.

    Love, Kate

  5. Wow, Nancy! You are now more known to me. What a marvelous collection of writings I am fortunate to have discovered after following the tag line from yesterday's email to me!

    I read from the beginning of your blog just now. Tears came to my eyes several times - especially about Sweetwater Farm. I'm sorry I never knew Sweetwater Farm during your stewardship. Your words keep it alive for me to feel it here and now, and I am blessed to be your next door neighbor here and now.

    I sit in my office and look out at your lovely collection of birdhouses. Ever since the day I came home and discovered them newly hung, they've been a special treat. I never really thought about the fact that you can see them from any of your windows, too. They've always seemed placed more for Brian and me to enjoy!

    Thank you for sharing yourself here. I know I'll take some of these thoughts with me today as I pack and head off on our next adventure.
    You do truly create home wherever you are!