PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our hearts, we still cling to anything- anger, anxiety, or possessions- we cannot be free.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
When Lori Rewick Simon bought a vintage trailer in June of 2011 she had no idea that this “project trailer” would “save” her. Life was good. As the National Director of the nonprofit group, Casting for Recovery, she enjoyed an active outdoor lifestyle in her transplanted home of Vermont. A native Californian who frequently moved as a child, Lori was accustomed to change and easily adapted to it. If there was a negative side to the frequent moves, it was that Lori developed a strong desire for perfection in all that she set out to do.
A professional photographer with an MA in photography from the Hallmark Institute of Photography, she had aspired to become a photographer for National Geographic. Finding that a difficult position to secure, she drifted in to teaching high school photography and then in to yearbook sales. At a time in her life when she was reevaluating her priorities she discovered a class being taught at her church entitled, “Abundant.” The class was a 16-week commitment and focused on crystalizing what really matters in life and living your life in an “abundant” manner. It was then that Lori made the decision to get out of sales and move to nonprofit work. With the support of her husband, John, and their children Charlie Chelsea, Lori made the career change. Her first job was with the March of Dimes in Phoenix. Her continued advancement eventually meant moving to Montana. This new location gave Lori ample opportunity to indulge in two of her favorite hobbies; fly fishing and horseback riding.
After several years in Montana, the March of Dimes wanted Lori to take a position in Dallas, Texas. She thought that the weather in the south would make their outdoor lifestyle harder to enjoy. When a friend told her of a position available in Vermont with a nonprofit that helps women recovering from breast cancer by providing them with fly fishing weekends, she thought it sounded like a perfect fit. Casting for Recovery (CFR) thought so, too, and hired Lori to be their National Director. The move to Vermont suited them perfectly.
I met Lori at the Museum for Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vermont in May of 2011. I was in Vermont displaying my Sister on the Fly trailer at the fly fishing museum’s kickoff event for their retrospective on women and fly fishing. At that time Lori knew about the Sisters on the Fly because they had partnered with CFR to raise funds for the organization. Sitting in her office, I remember her telling me that she wanted to join SOTF and get a Metzendorf trailer. I cautioned her about the amount of work that older trailers can often require, but her heart was set on a Metzendorf.
Lori’s 1962 Metzendorf on the day she brought it home
In June of 2011 she purchased a project Metzendorf and brought it home. At that time Lori did not know a jigsaw from a chop saw, but was determined to restore the trailer herself. She began the process with her usual ‘can do’ spirit and had removed the windows to begin restoring them when the first incident of the “annus horribilis” took place.
As often happens with vintage trailer purchases, the damage was more extensive than it appeared.
Lori was trail riding near her home with a good friend and they had just passed a neighbor who was mowing his lawn. The neighbor started up a weed whacker, which spooked her horse. He bucked Lori, throwing her from her saddle. She does not remember anything about the actual fall. Her memory of the event begins with her realization that people were calling her name. It seemed to her like a whisper because she had suffered a concussion and was unconscious for a time. As she came around and saw faces around her asking her if she was okay, she realized that she was in excruciating pain. The fall had broken all of the ribs on her right side including four ribs that had over 20 breaks each in them. Her collarbone was also broken and she had a severe concussion.
As fate would have it, the accident occurred 100 yards from a volunteer ambulance station. The EMT that was there kept Lori calm and monitored her until the ambulance could move her to a hospital. The fall kept her in the hospital for five days and her full recovery would take months. Within two weeks she was gingerly back at work, too exhausted at the end of her abbreviated workday to do anything but come home and rest.
Lori, back on Joe after recovering from the injuries she sustained when he bucked her.
By September Lori was getting around enough to make it through a workday but all work on her trailer, which she had named Dorothy, had ceased. She kept the commitment to travel to Montana and attend the International Fly Fishing Festival as part of her job with Casting for Recovery. While there she received the devastating news from home that her only sister had died unexpectedly. She traveled home immediately and helped her 93 and 95 year old parents through the loss. Still suffering extreme fatigue, she began asking doctors what could be wrong. She was having trouble concentrating and simple tasks were requiring great effort.
By December she was pressing for answers and her doctor began conceding that maybe it wasn’t just the residual effects from her fall. In February of 2012 tests revealed that she had an advanced case of Lyme’s disease and treatment began immediately. In March of 2012 another blow came with the passing of Lori’s mother. The following month Lori lost two of her oldest and dearest friends to breast and pancreatic cancer. The losses were coming in so quickly that she hardly had time to process them. Everything that had seemed so hopeful the previous spring seemed like impossibility to her now. The trailer that she had hoped to work on sat partially disassembled in the barn and the mental and physical energy needed to work on it had evaporated.
At this time Lori began really thinking about what matters in life and counting her blessings. All the loss and change sent her on a spiritual journey. She began reading and was moved by the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a global Buddhist “apostle of peace”. She looked at Dorothy out in the yard and related to her broken state. As Lori tried to heal she looked at the trailer as a symbol of not only her own brokenness, but of the world’s. In our throwaway society the broken down trailer was scrap metal destined for the landfill but Lori longed to love it back to life.
She took the lessons that Thich Nhat Hanh tried to impart to his followers and with her limited energy headed to her yard with the attitude that although she could only remove the weathered screws, she would at least do that. She would contribute what she could to rebuild the trailer, herself and the world with kindness and love.
The spring and summer of 2012 were healing for both Lori and Dorothy. Lori’s husband became interested in the project and started helping out. Lori had a goal to take the trailer to a Sisters on the Fly event in Colorado Springs in July. This was an ambitious goal because Dorothy was almost completely disassembled and Lori was still working full time and recovering from two serious physical events as well as a great deal of emotional loss.
Like Lori, Dorothy was going through a complete rebuild.
In addition, Lori still had the perfectionism that had driven her whole life. The trailer had to be finished as if a professional restorer had done it. Lori looked up every single step in the process to make sure it was the best that it could be. While doing this she began to also look at her need for perfection and ask herself if it was adding to the quality of her life or detracting from it. Lessons from Nhat Hahn were sinking in.
In July of 2012, Lori and a girlfriend set off for Colorado. Lori had never towed a trailer before and they made a plan to “just go straight!” Eventually along the way Lori got herself in a spot that required her to back the trailer up. She told her friend that she planned to get out of her predicament by taking “deep breaths” and moving a few feet at a time, getting out and checking her progress, and then moving a few more feet. It worked! She got out of the tight spot and today is an accomplished tower!
The beautifully restored Metzendorf!
Her three-week maiden voyage with Dorothy started out in Chicago where they visited family before digging in for the Colorado, Montana and Utah leg of the trip. While in Chicago, Lori got the opportunity to let go of the rest of her “perfectionism problem.” While towing Dorothy in a driving rain storm the little trailer was buffeted. When she arrived at her destination and got inside, she discovered that despite doing all of the proper things to seal windows, the rain had penetrated and the front of the trailer was soaking wet.
After removing the wet linens Lori sat on the bed and surveyed the dripping woodwork that she had lovingly stained and varnished. It was soaking wet and all discolored. As she looked at it she recalls thinking that there is no such thing as perfect. Rather than being upset about it, she adopted the attitude that it was a reflection of real life. We are a blemished and hurting society. She decided to love her trailer as it was and not fix it.
“Dorothy” all completed!
She applies the same principle to people, including herself. She knows now that her value is not in being able to work and perform at top capacity, but in her ability to love and accept people and herself wherever they are. “Progress, not perfection” is her new, freeing, attitude.
To read Janine’s blog, click here.
*Editors Note: Readers in Columbus, OH area, be sure to come see Go RVing at the Country Living Fair this weekend, September 18-20, and visit with the Sisters on the Fly!*