Written by Bernie K. a 92-Year-Old Economist
Change, especially unexpected change, brings along with it the question of “Where do I go from here?” Often along with it comes a sense of hesitation, anxiety and, perhaps, even fear. Adjusting to the new situation can certainly take up a considerable amount of one’s limited disposable time, energy, resources and funds (TERF). That is even more likely when it is a type of change one hasn’t experienced previously.
As I’ve gotten older, I experienced all kinds of changes. Some are difficult, like not being able to drive—which I will write about in an upcoming blog post; diminishing vision, and feeling more isolated. Some of the changes present new and unexpected opportunities. In this series of blog posts called “The Adjustments” I’ll tell you about some of the changes I am currently going through and how I am navigating them. I will also share with you some of the major changes I’ve experienced throughout my life and how the decisions I made during those times affected the course of my life. I want to begin by telling you a story where I experienced a major change that led to new, unexpected opportunities.
In December of 1986, a month after my mother died, I went to St. John, USVI to sort things out. My middle son, Paul was there with me. After a very productive couple of weeks, it was time to head back to the states. We were standing in the bow of the boat heading back from Cruz Bay to Red Hook on our way to catch the flight from St. Thomas back up to the States. I turned to Paul and the words out of his mouth were “Yes, I know Dad.” I was about to tell him that I had decided to move to St. John. Six months later I did just that. I lived there for 18 years with no intention of ever leaving.
For me the beautiful 19 1/2 square mile mountainous tropical island of St. John was a special place with an ideal climate. It was sunny most of the time and the maximum temperature, summer and winter, was 85°with a seabreeze to go along with it. In the summer the temperature dropped down to 75° at night, in the winter to 72. That is to say nothing about the salt water pool called the ocean. St. John is part of the United States Virgin Islands. Before 1917 it was one of the Danish West Indies.
The most important aspect of St. John to me is the people, many of whom were descendants of the independent, free black population that lived on St. John for centuries. Some had ancestors who had gotten their freedom before emancipation in the 1840s. Today’s St. Johnians were warm and welcoming and open to interacting. I met a number of the fine artists and craftspersons and learned about St. John’s basketmaking history. (You can read more about my interest in baskets here.)
One of the people I met was Mr. Herman Prince, St. John’s principal basketmaker-teacher. One of Mr. Prince’s traditional “St. John market baskets” is in the Smithsonian Collection. He said that I couldn’t write about St. John baskets before I learned how to make them. So I took his class and we became good friends. Before I came to St. John, Mr. Prince never signed or dated his exceptionally fine baskets. A number of them are in my collection of St. John baskets. (For more about the collection see this video.) I went on to study the history of St. John basketry, learned how that basket type came to St. John and published an article in the Clarion, America’s Folk Art Magazine, entitled “Basketmaking on the Island of St. John”.
That is only a part of the special experiences that I had on St. John. (For more about them see my blog post entitled Me–Then ’til Now.) None of it would have happened had I not taken advantage of the opportunity that came about as a result of my mother’s death.
In January 1999 I had a heart attack. I was sent to the hospital on St. Thomas. They misdiagnosed the problem and sent me back to St. John. The next day I was back on St. Thomas in the hospital again. This time they put me into the ER. When I recovered I went to Duke University Hospital in Durham. The doctor threw me into the hospital and had the cardiac surgeon change his schedule. The next morning he performed a four vessel coronary bypass operation(CAB4X). Based on that experience I eventually decided that the better part of valor was to move back to North Carolina permanently. That’s just what I did in 2003. I learned to pay attention to and take advantage of the unexpected, unintentional opportunities that change brings along with it, even when the change was painful. The other thing I’ve learned is to make sure that I have enough time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) to take care of myself, meet my obligations and commitments, and fulfill any higher priorities before I take advantage of the new opportunities and adjust to the changes.
I still say in touch with my friends from St. John. Some are still with us, others have passed on. They and the experiences that I had with them are part of me. Furthermore, when I came back to the States I met Erin Coyle. Erin is my friend, colleague and co-author. Together we are a team. Originally I never intended to come back to the States. If I hadn’t come back most likely I would not have met Erin. I can’t imagine what my life would have been without her.
Change presents its difficulties, especially when you have never been there before. The “Should I or shouldn’t I” approach is fully appropriate along with the hesitation about making the move. Importantly, each of us takes the consequences of whichever path we take. I can only suggest that the best thing to do is to open our eyes to the opportunities that change brings along with it and take advantage of it. Doing so has provided me with unimagined, and perhaps unimaginable, opportunities and benefits.