Life in the Slow Lane Suits NPR's Amy Eddings

Former NPR host Amy Eddings left New York for a simpler life in the heartland. Now she wondered if she'd done the right thing.

by - Posted on Dec 17, 2015

Guideposts: Amy and Mark at their new old house

“I can’t wait until this is over.” Lately I’d noticed my husband, Mark, and me saying this to each other a lot. It was our mantra all through the long, bitter Ohio winter, one we felt acutely in our drafty new home.

The house was a gorgeous pistachio-colored century-old Queen Anne Victorian in Ada, a village about two hours south of Cleveland, where I’d grown up in the suburbs and where my parents still lived. My sister’s house was down the street from us.

Four months earlier, I had quit my high-profile job as a public-radio journalist in New York City. My husband had retired early from his own successful radio career and we had moved to Ada to reconnect with our families, step back from our relentless pursuit of achievements and find a more peaceful, God-centered focus for our lives.

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So far what we’d found was a charming, affordable old house that needed a lot of work.

“I can’t wait until this is over,” Mark and I said with a grimace as we heated soup on a hot plate in the living room while blue-shirted Amish men knocked the plaster from the walls of our outdated kitchen.

And that was only the beginning of the work. The house needed an exterior paint job, new insulation, and drainage for a flood-prone basement. We were planning to build a rental apartment over the freestanding garage to supplement our income, which at the moment consisted of our savings and Mark’s recent inheritance from his mother.

I had hoped to make some money as a freelance journalist. But those hopes were dimming as I found out how difficult and financially unrewarding that work can be. I’d started looking for a full-time job. Meanwhile, the money in our savings account was evaporating by the day.

I thought I’d sensed a clear call from God to leave New York and embrace a different set of values. I thought Mark and I were going to slow down, to live in the heartland—in the full sense of that word—spending more time with the people we cared about.

But here we were in a rambling old house filled top to bottom with noise and dust. We had a to-do list that stretched to the heavens. We were anxious and afraid. What had prompted us to move here? I found it increasingly hard to remember.

“I can’t wait until this is over.” Ironically, it was those very words that had brought us to Ada in the first place. Mark and I had said or thought them nearly every day in our 600-square-foot apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

There we slept on a sofa bed because our bedroom doubled as the living room. We hauled our dirty clothes two blocks to the Laundromat (and crossed our fingers that the other customers didn’t have bedbugs).

We relied on our smart phones to tell us the weather forecast because we were unable to read the mood of the sky. It was blocked from our view by other buildings and by an acanthus tree that hovered over our back window like a security gate.

“I can’t wait until this is over and we find our Forever Home,” I announced to Mark one day, eyeing the unmade sofa bed. “Because this isn’t it.”

I was the afternoon-drive newscaster and local host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered at WNYC, the largest public-radio station in the country. I’d been doing the job for 10 years and could easily have done it for 20 more.

It was creative and stimulating. My colleagues were funny and smart. The work was absorbing and important. It paid me well and gave me an audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners.

It was exactly the life I’d hoped for when I moved to New York three decades earlier, escaping what I feared would be a boring, predictable adulthood in suburban Cleveland. So why on earth had I decided to move back to Ohio?

It all started when my husband’s oldest sister, Peggy, came to the end stage of her 20-year battle against breast cancer. Peggy lived in Chicago, where most of Mark’s immediate family was—too far for us to visit regularly. We followed her progress through weekly calls to my mother-in-law.

The distance made us feel helpless. Our calls and the cards we sent—“We’re praying for you!” “We’re thinking of you!”—felt paltry.

Eight months after Peggy died, Mark’s mother too was gone. She went into the hospital for knee-replacement surgery, contracted an infection and didn’t recover.

I began thinking more and more of my own parents, back in Ohio. They were healthy now. But inevitably the time would come when they would need help. What would I do then? Offer them encouragement over the phone?

The summer after Peggy died, Mark and I visited my sister and her family in Ada. We looked forward to these annual trips. We’d sit on my sister’s front porch watching thunderstorms roll past.

We don’t have kids of our own, so we loved taking my nieces to corn mazes or exploring the backyard with them, picking lavender and holding the fragrant blue-gray spikes under our noses. We joked about ditching our jobs and moving to Ada.

We especially liked to dream about buying that spacious Victorian house up the road, the one painted pistachio green with the wraparound porch and attic turret.

Then my sister called to tell us the house was for sale. I knew I’d never leave my Forever Job, even for an Ohio Forever Home. Still, I asked my sister to call the real-estate agent to show us the house when we were in town—just to see what it looked like inside.

It turned out that the seller had dropped the price. Is it a sign from God? Mark and I wondered. No, we said, shaking our heads. We couldn’t leave all we’d built in New York. We just couldn’t.

My sense of what was possible changed the moment the agent let us in the door.

“Oh my God,” I intoned.

I meant it. The house inspired awe and wonder. It was beautiful. Panels of deep brown solid oak reached halfway up the walls. A wide, gracious staircase led to the second floor. There was a formal dining room and a parlor, a vestibule, a fireplace and an attic. And that enchanting little turret that made me feel like a princess in a fairy tale.

My nieces oohed and ahhed and ran upstairs to check out the bedrooms. “Aunt Amy!” the youngest yelled down to us. “I want the purple room when we sleep over!”

I was seized with a need so strong, it almost felt like duty. “We have to live here,” I said, turning to Mark with tears in my eyes.

It was ridiculous, really. All this house, for just Mark and me? But in that moment, standing in the foyer, I envisioned more than just us in this house. I saw it filled with family and friends, old and new. They’d come here for card games and writing workshops, potluck dinners and lectures.

And I saw myself defined by something more than my Forever Job. I was not my talents or my paycheck or my tens of thousands of listeners. I was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a wife. I was a friend and a mentor. The life that had seemed predictable and boring to a teenager suddenly seemed the kind most worth living.

It felt like a new path was opening before me. A new definition of a life well traveled and well lived.

There was freedom in that path, a sense that I could step away from frenetic New York and take my time exploring alternatives. There was also, as Peggy’s and my mother-in-law’s deaths reminded me, no time at all. If we were going to do this, I thought, we would have to do it now. It would be a leap of faith.

Mark and I bought the house. We packed up our New York apartment, I said goodbye on the air and just like that we were heading to Ohio, into a new life.

We still felt as if we were waiting for that new life to begin.

“I can’t wait until this is over,” Mark and I kept saying as house repairs multiplied and our bank account shrank. When were we going to have that more peaceful, purposeful life we’d moved to Ada to find?

Until, one day, I realized that maybe Mark and I already were living that life. Maybe all the chaos and unpredictability was exactly what we needed. The renovations and the job search were forcing us to slow down, take stock, pray more, appreciate each other more.

Wasn’t that what we came here to do? It was requiring me to keep listening to God, to keep trusting him.

I thought back to that day when I stood in the foyer of this grand old house, suddenly seized with a vision of a different future. A future I never could have imagined back when all I wanted was to escape suburban Cleveland, move to New York City and make it big. God gave me a glimpse of the person I could become if I stepped forward in faith.

I’m still stepping forward. Every day I have to let go of my impatience to get through the messiness of life, knowing that God speaks loudest there. I’m learning to trust that here, now, I’m home at last.

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