Some people take stock of their lives after a long career in business. Perhaps it was law or health care. What worked? What didn’t? Others have a bucket list. If it’s not in their wallet, it might be in the back of their mind. Go to Machu Pichu, check. Go on safari, check. Set a world record for something…but what? Have to figure that one out.
It’s about gaps, and it’s about dreams. If we didn’t fulfill all our dreams, at least we remember them. But life has a way of inserting itself like a roadblock in the dream landscape. Marriage as a reality may match the dream image, but often does not. The kids might not be what we thought. Maybe the grandkids will be more rewarding. At least you can walk away from them at the end of the day. Maybe you were downsized before you were ready to retire. Maybe you just couldn’t stand the rat race anymore. What now?
Fulfillment can be elusive. We’ve made our choices, and we’ve heard that life offers no second chances. But like a lot of things, that’s only true if you believe it.
As a teenager, my wife, Kristine, loved horses. She rode whenever she could. But then came college, with its heavy financial and time demands, then marriage, then kids. Soon she realized she’d taken a different trail, almost without deciding to.
Now Kristine is 58. We are in our fifth year living in Mexico. She’s pulled on her breeches, half-chaps and spurs again, tightened the strap on her helmet, and she’s riding two days a week at the Carranza Ranch. She rides a twelve-year-old gray quarter horse named Sage. He’s an even-tempered sort with a weakness for carrots. If you asked her, she would tell you that you can go back. You can pick up the dropped reins, put your foot back into the stirrup, and ride off, not into the sunset, but into a fresh morning in the Mexican countryside.
She’s also gotten involved in jewelry design, making unique pieces, and she’s learned to do interior book design for San Miguel Allende Books, my publishing company.
I came out of college as a salaried writer in mental health, even while I worked on two novels. The novels didn’t work and I found myself unable to write fiction for 37 years. That was my roadbock; and fulfillment, at least in that direction, looked like a pipe dream of the most elusive kind. When my writer’s block ended unexpectedly, I began the first of my San Miguel mysteries, titled Twenty Centavos. There are nine of them now. Was it Mexico that made this happen for both of us? No. We did it ourselves because we decided to do it. But Mexico is a place where such things can more easily happen, and San Miguel is a hospitable backdrop against which to tinker with the direction of your life. A little more this way, a little less that way, might be the road map to fulfillment. The large expatriate community here makes for an ample support group to ensure a soft landing on arrival.
Wondering about that process, I had conversations with 32 people who had made this kind of change. They had upended their lives in the United States and Canada and settled here full time in San Miguel. I told them that, even though I’d done it myself, I wasn’t sure I fully understood why other people would do this. Were their reasons the same as mine? The result was unexpected. There were as many different reasons to move here as there were people I talked to. There was no ‘common type.’ Each story was different, and some were startling.
What about security? I asked. By this time the American media was beating the drum constantly about Mexico being a dangerous place. From our travels all around the country by bus and car, I knew that there was no special risk to living here. We do what Americans do at home––we understand where the trouble spots are, and we avoid them. That’s all that is required to lead a perfectly safe and normal life. The local expatriates I spoke with confirmed this. Still, I regularly hear from others who’ve been spooked by the US media and the State Department, and are afraid to visit. I tell them that they are safer here than they are at home in the U.S.
The book that came from these conversations is San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. It’s my effort, not at explaining the expatriate experience here, but at illustrating it, showing how it operates day by day.
Fulfillment can be many things. One thing I know for sure about it is that it doesn’t chase you. I think that change helps make it possible, and a change like moving to Mexico may open some doors on aspects of ourselves we may have thought were lost. For others, it may give them unexpected access to a totally new way of life in the future. Being in a different country causes some of our self-imposed limitations to fall away. We find that people don’t have the same expectations of us, and this is a new freedom in itself––a freedom to be different from what we were. I’ve always believed in the possibility that we can reinvent ourselves. Mexico is a great place to do it.
Values are different here. It’s not a consumer society in the way the U.S. is. The pace is different. One thing that’s important to me is that the look is much different, too, almost exotic. San Miguel is a historic town that dates from 1542. I always thought I’d like to live in Europe, where I’ve visited many times. But the dollar is so cheap against the euro that the economics of living there are now difficult. Mexico is extremely reasonable.
I know Kristine agrees with me that we have come to earth here. We could never go back. It has a seductive charm in the people, the arts, and the culture that’s become irreplaceable to us. Mexico is home.
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