By Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab
Julie is mostly interested in yoga for the stretching and whatever else physical movement contributes to well being. She has fortunately found a yoga instructor who suits her needs. And every once in a while beyond the poses, Debbie offers up a nugget that sets Julie thinking about more abstract issues.
Recently, maybe to reflect society’s current obsession with opening up— reopening businesses, schools, construction, churches, meeting venues, offices, parks and everything else—Debbie talked briefly about openness and encouraged the class to think about being open to change, allowing awareness and curiosity. After that class, the two of us talked about where each of us are with that concept.
For starters —maybe almost an epiphany (not exactly sure what qualifies for that designation) — Julie realized that with each new activity she opened herself to, there was a heavy dose of anxiety as well.
One activity she embraced rather later in life was bicycling. She had always been a tentative cyclist. As a child in Wallkill, she remembers being able to ride only in the driveway. A brief period even earlier when she had a bike in the Bronx involved riding on the sidewalk. Then many years later, for reasons we don’t recall, we gave each other bikes for our birthdays.
We became bike riders and, in fact, did several trips in Germany with friends and family, one in Denmark and another combining travel on a barge and biking. But as adventurous at that sounds, Julie says there was a good deal of anxiety connected with those outings.
First she worried about safety; she had a mirror attached to her helmet so she could see traffic coming from behind. She got braver and somewhat less anxious but probably never quite carefree about it. We haven’t ridden our bikes in several years. We paused when Rudi had surgery on each of his hands and was in a cast each time. By the time he was healed, Julie became concerned about what would happen if we fell off our bikes at our age.
There are other examples of when she was open to new things: moving to California with a teenage son and no job; quitting her job to explore options for a new career. Doing a book tour in Germany in a language she doesn’t speak. Anxiety was part of the equation for each.
Rudi has a reputation among our friends for not liking change. Our friend Jane likes to rearrange her house, move wall hangings, get new artwork. Rudi has expressed his discomfort—maybe even disapproval—with her efforts although her home is always warm and interesting looking.
Once when Julie was Skyping with our friend Janet years ago, Rudi walked through the room, glanced at the computer screen and asked, almost in horror and certainly with disapproval, why Janet had moved a photograph he remembered hanging on her wall.
And yet, he has opened himself to many experiences. He points out that he was open to emigrating to the United States. Once here, he saw an opportunity to teach fencing at Cal State Hayward, earning enough money to pay for the commute and tuition. After earning his M.A. degree, he was hired by his old high school in Germany and relocated again. Then, when he was offered a slot in UC Berkeley’s Ph.D. program, he came back to the U.S.
After Rudi graduated and his first wife left him, he asked himself, ”What now?” He looked into the yellow pages under flight instruction and three hours later took his first lesson on how to fly gliders in Fremont. When he couldn’t find a job as a professor in medieval German Lit, he continued as an auto mechanic (a self-taught job that paid for his degree). Then he re-invented himself as a law enforcement officer. So while he always craved stability, he was open to re-inventing himself as needed in radically different ways.
Openness in the Pandemic
So now we come to this strange time. In some ways, we could consider the life style we are living a “closing down”, shrinking of our world, our contacts, our opportunities. And yet, there is a way that the shelter-in-place has led us to new connections, renewed contact with family and friends, time to satisfy our curiosity by reading and researching, the opportunity to think about topics like the ones we have been addressing in our blogs.
The current crisis seems to have led many of you to think about those same topics and share your memories and insights with us. What do you think about openness now?
When Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab, authors of the novel Stumbling Stone, drove 10,811 miles to Nova Scotia from California, they had an itinerary and some designated places they planned to stay. Some of their trip left them wide open to explore and experience new places, new people and new perspectives.