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An Elder in Exile

For the 40 years I lived in Manhattan, it was well known that many people there, when they reached retirement age – especially in the Jewish community - moved to Florida. Some were immigrants from around the world and from other states in the U.S.; others were life-long New Yorkers, born there.

Either way, they trekked off to Florida (and probably still do) without, it seemed to me, a backward glance.

I always wondered how, without a compelling financial reason, they could just pack up their homes and go to places where they didn't know anyone. There is – to me, at least – extraordinary comfort in the familiarity of everyday life that I am loathe to give up.

Friends, neighbors, local shop keepers, knowledge of the best, worst or just-okay restaurants and stores, ease in getting from point A to point B because you've been doing it for decades.

To start over building all those connections anew would be, it seemed to me, an emotionally wrenching difficulty.

And yet, I did it when I moved first to Portland, Maine, and then in 2010, to Lake Oswego, Oregon. But although I selected the locations, it was definitely not my idea to leave Manhattan.

And maybe that is the difference in the emotional ease with which others appear to make big moves – they decided for themselves while the choice was forced on me.

It is probably easier for retirees to move far away when it is done to be near their grown children and grandchildren. Maybe others return to their hometowns. I know that some of those elder Florida residents say they are fleeing cold and snow which is also the attraction of another retirement haven, the desert southwest.

As common as retirement relocations are, few people talk about making new homes from scratch in their late years - how it works out, what is good and what is not.

It was only in March that I wrote about adjusting to moving far away from a bit of a different perspective. Today's post came about when a Manhattan friend who moved to Georgia a couple of years ago recently suggested that we are exiles, she and I, expats who have been banished like those in ancient times were for having committed a crime against the king.

It's funny how one word can make a big difference in one's thinking – in this case, exile. It feels exactly right to describe my feelings about no longer living in Manhattan – not of my choosing, missing the sense and sensibility of that particular place that I knew so well.

I am making a life here in Oregon. Volunteering with local organizations has helped me meet new people. I particularly appreciate the natural beauties of northwest Oregon. And I'm learning my a way around although it's much harder when you can't walk to everywhere you want to go.

And I am nothing if not a realist. Whatever circumstances I find myself in, I do what I can to make it work for me and now that it's been three years, I feel quite settled here.

But that doesn't mean I don't feel exiled from what is my real home. I'll let the poet Maya Angelou help explain it - from her book, Letter to My Daughter:

“I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and the dragons of home under one's skin, at the extreme corners of one's eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.”

Any other exiles out there?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Jimmy


Not an exile, but an expat, having lived almost all my adult life away from the place where I was born & raised. I always found it thrilling to move to a new state or country, meeting new people, learning new ways, having new experiences I couldn't have anywhere else. Sometimes I get wistful about the connections and memories the people of my youth developed and cemented by simply staying put, but I'd do it all again in a heartbeat, and I'd go tomorrow if I could get my wife to agree to it.

Ronni, I apologize that I don't read this blog regularly. Could you give a link to blogs posts about your move? I am curious as why and how do decided where to move.

btw, I am now following you on Twitter. I am Miss_Dazey there.

Oh me, oh my! I have felt like I am "in exile" many times in my life - including moving from Zimbabwe to Israel, and from there to the United States. When I moved from Buffalo, NY (after living there for 17 years) to Philadelphia eight years ago I felt so much in exile I could not even remember where was home! So, I truly appreciate Maya Angelou's quote.

What I have learned, though, is that home is truly where my heart is - the human condition is the same everywhere I have landed, and that I love being a Citizen of the World!

Fifteen years ago, right after my husband of 27 years died, I moved to Florida. Although I have come to appreciate the natural beauty of the place, I am more and more missing my children and grandchildren. I foresee in the not too distant future another move back home while I am still active and able to get around with them. Friends and the like come and go but your family really is the glue.

I am an exile wherever I go. I've lived in Texas for nearly 40 years now, and yet, I still miss Vancouver. When I was a kid in Canada, I missed England. On returning to England for a trip, I realized that, to the English, I'm American. Here in the south, I'm a Yankee.

That, plus the rules have changed in Canada and England since I left. I am nostalgic for places that have changed so much as to be practically unrecognizable. Yes, I am an exile.

There are several posts about why I moved from New York. Here are the first two:

Forced Retirement

A Sense of Place

I've often referred to myself as an expat Seattleite. I've been in Walla Walla for 13 years now and when I return to WW from travel I do get that "I'm home" feeling when I walk in the door here. All my children and grandchildren are here. Still I do occasionally think of myself as an exile. There's something of a failure to launch at times in my life in WW.

I would not go back to Seattle, couldn't afford it for one thing and all my friends there have left or died. My family is here and in Portland, Oregon. The last few times I visited Seattle I was struck by how much it had changed and was no longer the place of I grew up. The house my parents lived in is gone, replaced by a high rise office. Some of the places I worked as an adult no longer exist. My own last two homes there with husband and children have been remodeled past recognition.

I think at 71 I feel I came out of a place that no longer exists. It's more than geographical. We are also exiled from our pasts as fewer and fewer people recall it or us. If this sounds gloomy it's a rainy, gray here again and it will pass.

Most of the non-Spaniards I meet in this s.w. corner of Andalucia call themselves expatriates (expats). I see from the dictionary that this means an exile - or more specifically to exile oneself from one's native country.

Well, I''ve certainly done that a few times - in the 60s to Asia, in the 80s to the Middle East and, unlike many I knew, I never referred to the UK as home; I still don't.

I don't pine to be anytwhere other than where I am at the time. If I am in a warm/hot place I'm as happy as Larry. I have always been miserable in the cold.

I am going on a short holiday next week to the north of England and I am packing as if for the Arctic!

I exiled myself, with barely a backward glance, from Chicago to Florida four years ago. I expected to miss my old location a little. What I failed to anticipate was the sea-change in the culture. I now long for my old home, and for the lively exchange and the diversity of Chicago - a city I truly love. I do enjoy life in Florida; I don't miss minus 30 degree weather and dog-walking in a whiteout. I miss daffodils, which don't grow here. I'm not certain the sunshine makes up for the loss of intellectual rumble and the bright light of debate which I took for granted all those years . There is no Studs here. With no family here or in Chicago, I doubt this is our last home, so I may choose a new place of exile one day soon.

When I flew back to Korea in 2003, I felt like I was coming home. The sight of the mountains under the plane's wing made my heart well up with joy. People often ask me if I miss the U.S. No, it's not the place I knew any more. (I agree with Celia.)

An Arizonian at birth through
age 10. Then SoCal, Nor Cal through marriage to military man for eleven years. Another
eleven years of marriage that
was trauma-filled for my 4 children.

Went to college...then became
a Full Time RV'r...Best choice I ever made...Traveled
my beautiful country and met
wonderful others who were living the same life!
The people who RV are the best part of the whole trip!

Settled on my home base property, in S.E. New Mexico with a bunch of other RV'rs I am a very happy camper. About ready to get another smaller
rig and head out again, after
my 82nd birthday the end of

Try it, you too might like it!

I chose to move to the Oregon coast from Portland 3 years ago. Meeting people just wasn't going to happen until I started volunteering. That is without question the best way for older people to integrate into a new community. School and work are the means for younger people.

I think Portland is a beautiful city with much to offer, but I don't miss the traffic or noise. I'll admit to an occasional bout of wistfulness, but no sorrow or regret. The slower pace of life and natural beauty are an even trade-off for me.

I think we are all on a journey! Home is in our hearts and souls!

The Maya Angelou poem speaks to me. Yet my sense of exile has little to do with aging.

I come from people who had a very strong sense of place, because, unlike many Americans, their people had roots in a place (Buffalo, NY) going back a couple of hundred years. Yet I knew from my teens that I would have to leave that home place -- because the city itself was dying and because I was gay and my familial roots would not serve me. So I left at 18 and never really re-connected, despite many drop ins.

Unexpectedly, my partner and I *may* have the option of living in the East when she retires. After over 40 years in Northern California, it is interesting to think about, but I worry it would be exile.

I was born and spent the first 35 years of my life in Colorado Springs and never expected to leave. I didn't count on a husband who was happy no matter where he lived. As a result I lived in Stevens Point, WI, back to Colorado Springs, Pueblo, CO, Phoenix, AZ, Kemmerer, Wyo., Tucson, AZ, a short stint in Johnstown, Pa, Spencer, MA, and finally back to Tucson. I still consider Colorado Springs my home although I have lived in Tucson for the past 44 years and it is my second home.

I still get a lump in my throat when I see Pikes Peak again, but am happy to return to the sun after visiting there. Wasn't it Thomas Wolfe who said, "You can't go home again."? (My memory probably has the that wrong. If so, forgive me.) After many years away the home you remembered has disappeared and changed. My family are either dead or have moved so there really isn't anything left for me. Only the old mountain remains the same.

Nonetheless, the home I grew up in lives on in my memories and that is the place that will always be home.

I don't feel like either an exile or ex-pat. I have moved so many times in my life I really don't have any deep roots anywhere. I left NW Indiana With an enlistment in the Navy at 19. Since then I have been in Bainbridge, Md (basic training), Pensacola, Fl (Navy school), Washington, D.C. (assigned post), Pensacola, Fl (to-be-husband attended Navy School), Albany, GA (to-be-husband assigned), back to NW Indiana to attend IU, Ft. Collins, Co. for 14 years, Columbia, MO for 6 years, NW Indiana for the last 14 years. There may be one more move in me depending on circumstances. We have always been considered a moving people since the day the Pilgrims landed.

Ronni: sorry you feel that way. I moved to Eugene, Oregon from Washington,D.C., (where I grew up and worked), in 1976,and feel I have found my real home. Also lived in New York city for about 1.5 years during the 1960's. I can't even imagine moving back to the East Coast. Perhaps moving from dull yuppy Lake Oswego to downtown Portland might help.
David Newman

My return to Boston for my 50th high school reunion last week fueled this sense of exile and surprised me. I really can't imagine going back to long, cold winters but still, the hold was undeniable and bedrock deep. Shaped me in so many ways. I've since lived in the mid-west and 14 years in California, Antigua and now Italy and feel grateful for all of that. But, yes, I'm an exile.

With 21 memorable years in Nor-Cal, unaffordability was reality. Relocated to Central FL, where my parents settled after ending working days in NW Ohio.
Never rooted to the state it will be refreshing to speed back west. Early retirement is possible and seasonal navigation will transpire in a small (Class C) RV.

I've been in the Seattle area for more than half my 72 years. It suits me and i can't imagine living anywhere else, but I still feel like an exile.
Returning to the small Cortland County NY farm after college was never an option (though my siblings and I still own it and feel the ties), and Rochester and Princeton in post college years never felt like home. Isn't it strange?

I left my home town Toronto at an early age and couldn't wait to get out of there. I felt I had no connection to that city other than my parents, and at that age that connection seemed tenuous at best. I moved around for several years and in 1973 arrived in Nova Scotia for the first time and instantly felt that I had come home. Lived there for 12 years and left again, to wander another 25 years around Canada. At one point I returned to Toronto and saw it with fresh eyes and enjoyed it very much. I could have stayed longer if circumstances permitted but they did not. I understand that feeling of exile now. But I am back in Nova Scotia and do feel that this is my home even though I still love wandering. As long as I am physically and financially capable I will wander, but the only place I do feel as home is in Nova Scotia. I am in the Vancouver BC area at the moment, another place I enjoy very much.

I wish you could live in Manhattan because you long for it so much. It makes me sad for you.

No matter where you go there you are. Florida, God's waiting room. Everyone I know who's gone there has thin blood within two years. Yea I traveled in the Seabees over 40 years ago and spent awhile in Sierra Leon after that (it wasn't no safari trip.) New Jersey it's where I'm at. Seven miles out side Atlantic City ( i've only been about 25 times in the 35 years it's been open and that's to eat I mean PLEASE!) Now all the tourists (we call them shoebees) are coming to see me why go any where? I love my shoebees. they're so funny they make me smile.

When I moved to Australia from England 31 years ago my new husband and I expected to stay for a year. Then we both started working freelance, I got pregnant, we divorced...every day, the option of returning home was slipping further away. So I lived in Australia with four Australian children - something I had not envisaged or actively chosen.

One night I went to a talk given by a refugee and, while I don't pretend to anything approaching the same scale of trauma, I suddenly understood why I had a nagging yearning for 'home' while other 'ex pats' regarded England as a prison they had been fortunate to escape. As you say, Ronni, it's all about having a choice.

Now I'm 61, my daughter lives in London and, when I visit, the idea of ever returning to Sydney seems quite bizarre. Yet I have lived here for literally half my life, have very close friends, work I love and an extremely comfortable lifestyle for someone with limited financial choices.

I've come to accept that 'home' is not a simple concept. I also accept that I could never feel completely settled again in either country. Hardly the end of the world, of course, but a loss nevertheless.

Northern California, especially the Sacramento Valley, I call my homeland. But, I'm permanently exiled to central Iowa, which is a totally different place. When I was young, I left for a job with an Airline, married a Nebraska boy and wound up in Iowa. Life happened -- four kids, divorce, college, remarriage and retirement.

My big opportunity to return home to live came when we finished our life afloat and could choose our next home. We found the ideal place in Chico, CA, and stayed for seven great years. But age was taking its toll, the neighborhood was changing, and home prices had doubled since we bought. Since all of his kids and mine lived in the Midwest and beyond, we returned to Ames where we already new people. It's a great town, but it's not "home". I miss the friends I made in Chico, the Sierras, the almond orchards, the hot dry summers, San Francisco, the golden hillsides dotted with live oaks ..... I pilgrimage home ever October to hang with my brother in the East Bay, to visit my High School best friend and touch base with my Chico buddies. In a perfect world, I'd go back in a heart beat.

I have lived on four continents in my lifetime—Europe, Asia, North America and Australia—and moved house 22 times and for many years I felt like an exile because I longed to return to the land of my birth (England). So finally, once I was able to do so, I did.
The trouble is, because I have moved around so much there is no one particular piece of this country—no city, town or village—that totally feels like home the way Manhattan does to you, Ronni. England is all home, in a way (at least the southern section of it is; up north feels foreign to me) and yet at the same time none of it is.
I've left bits of me everywhere. I long for the sunshine of Spain, the piazzas of Italy, the redwood forests of California and the smell of the desert sagebrush. I would love to wake to the sound of the Australian kookaburra again. I enjoy the rural peace and quiet of my home here, yet I also miss the cities with their bustle and anonymity and coffee shops. And if I lived in Boston where my daughter and her family are it would be wonderful to be near them but I would yearn for England, just as I did all those years I was away from it (and for all those other places too.)
So even though I finally did (sort of) come home after spending most of my life elsewhere, I remain permanently, inevitably, an exile.

I fear having to move to Seattle to be near my children and hope I can hang on in Hawaii for as long as possible. It's the only place I truly feel at home.
I am hoping to pre-decease my husband, because I could never run our household here on my own. He's younger, so I have a shot at this.

I have no desire to live where I
was born, the desert. But...when we drop down from the
Laguna Mountains into the desert, my heart says "I'm home".

Oh yes I've been in exile, here in Minnesota, from Massachusetts. I'm 57 this year and I continue to believe that some day I will live back east. Somewhere on Cape Cod. My other fantasy is living somewhere on the eastern seaboard south towards Virginia, South Carolina, or Georgia, though not Florida. Been there, don't like it. I don't care about starting over it's all part of the journey to me.

I've always been an exile. The longest I've ever lived any place was 17 years and that was in two stretches of 10 and 7 years respectively. My mother kept a "baby book" of my first 7 years and she entered the names of between 50 and 100 towns in the deep South where we lived during that time. I really must go count how many there were one of these days. I dread it when people ask me where I'm from. I'm from nowhere or everywhere depending on how you look at it.

My exile now is not from a place, but from what I wanted and expected I would do and be in this life. I did all that for a time, but had to change directions abruptly midstream and I've never felt fully at home with my life since then.

Oh Kewanee! We moved all over the Midwest, but Kewanee was the only place that felt like home.
Aunt Edna and Uncle George lived there. They had neighbors and friends. Other people knew them. And when I stayed there I felt like somebody...not just the new kid in the neighborhood.
What I would give to be back to be back around the big table in the dining room at 428 S. Main in Kewanee.

I never really had a "home town" as the daughter of a military man and the wife of one, too. I moved to Colorado when I was free of marital obligations and called Boulder my home for more than 30 years. But when I moved away after retirement, to the Pacific Northwest, I was amazed at how quickly I felt that Colorado was a dream and my true life exists here. At 70, I look forward to the next decade of life right here. Family? They are in Texas which has NEVER felt like home! :-)

About 55 of my 70 years were spent in Oklahoma City, and with three siblings still living there, my roots will always be deep in that red clay. However, it's always been the mountains that make my heart sing. Now that I'm in Denver, with my son and his family a mile away, a brother in Boulder, and the mountains close by, I really couldn't ask for more (well, a mountain view would be nice).

Several years ago I did some counting and determined that in my life I've lived in 9 houses and 5 apartments in 8 cities in 6 different states (OK, CN, NJ, GA, NY, CO), not including all the short-term addresses during my college years. Is it any wonder I feel uprooted? I've been in this house for about 7 years, and I still don't feel settled. I still feel like there's another move coming ...

I grew up just outside of Boston, but lived in New Orleans most of my adult life. It is home to me in a powerful way, but after Hurricane Katrina, I couldn't live there anymore. I've been in Austin for almost 7 years and feel a deep connection to this beautiful city, but will be forced out soon due to swiftly rising rents and a meager retirement benefit. I, too, feel forced to leave and don't like it one bit. Not sure where I will go, but do know I will feel a deep sense of loss on leaving. Sigh!

I recently discovered your blog which is a gem. Your most recent post on being “in exile” is quite relevant and the excerpt from Maya Angelou hit home. It is consoling to know that “elders” move, relocate and survive unscathed. The San Francisco bay area has been my home for nearly 30 years. In 2005, I returned to my roots to retire in my home state of Louisiana to be near my young grandchildren and family. I lasted in Louisiana less than a year. The inclement weather, culture shock, along with a loving but dysfunctional family was too much for me. I returned to California upon receiving a job offer I could not refuse. Unfortunately, with the 2008 economic downturn, my world changed after losing that job. I no longer feel a sense of belonging here and the high cost of living does not help.

Facing the unknown is difficult when forced to move which in my case, is for sensible and economic reasons. I’ve spent countless hours (and months) researching safe, "affordable” and walkable cities that align with how I live daily. I am spoiled by convenience, the familiar, and of course the fine weather here.

I have been to Portland many times visiting my cousin (a native San Franciscan) who resided in Lake Oswego for over 10 years, but recently moved to Idaho. I am attracted to Portland for its pristine parks, cultural events, and the clean, reliable public transportation. I’ve heard positive things about the hospitals too. For me, the weather may be an issue. I am not sure how I would react to numerous gray days, but Portland remains on my short list.

When I see rocky hills, oak trees and pretty water, I can breathe and relax. I'm sure I would feel exiled in the desert or near palm trees.

But even more than the environs, it is the people--their speech patterns and thought patterns and behavior patterns--that make me feel at home. The older I get, the more I want to be part of a larger tribe, to understand the people around me.

So much heartfelt poignancy in both post and responses. You batted it out of the ballpark today, Ronni, bringing in everyone with you.

I am so sorry that you were forced to leave NY. Even though you have tried to come to terms with that event, it's pretty clear that you feel exiled from "paradise." I have lived in SF for 50 years, almost all my adult life. As a Navy kid, we moved all the time but when I came here, I felt at home. But the city is gentrifying and kicking out the elderly, the poor and anybody who doesn't have a lot, I mean a LOT of money. I know that my days here are numbered. I managed an old building where my landlord's son lives (long story there). But if the son decides to move to LA or NY, the building will be for sale in a hot minute. Then I will have to leave because any new owner will kick me to the curb since I can't pay the $3000 plus rent that even a 1 bedroom place commands these days. I have resigned myself to moving to be closer to my brother or sister just to have family back up as I get older. But it won't be easy. Still, it might be easier than I fear for the city is changing into a boutique for the wealthy and most of my friends are gone, one way or another.

So many comments here spoke so well and movingly the words that I've felt and feel about missing places that no longer exist, about starting over, etc. that I have no words to add to them.

I would say, though, that if you're going to be making a big move, you might want to check out the site www.city-data.com . It has just about every detail and fact about cities all over the US, as well as a forum where you can get a more personal perspective on them.

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