I swear, I thought it was only a couple of years at most since I wrote part 4 of "My life and how JWD came to be". I re-read it after someone posted to it and brought it back on active topics and it was kind of prophetic in a way ... well, I had the 5 years part right if nothing else:
It would be nice to visit the site (or whatever one is around then) in 5 years time to let people know how we're doing and find only a few of the same people still around. Becoming an ExJW should be a process, a stage, and not the final destination that some people make it. We should all aim to become Ex-Ex-JWs and leave everything to do with the WTS behind us. Some will find that easier than others and some have to stick around longer because of friends and family but I think it should be our goal.
So, we didn't quite leave JWD behind as we originally planned but I think we've done a pretty decent job of becoming pretty uninterested in the whole JW and ex-JW universe. As anyone who still has a lot of family in there will tell you though it's hard to ever leave it behind completely as you are always affected by it.
One of our goals was to move to Canada as a family and we originally thought that would be a good point in time to quit running the forum too and have a completely fresh start. Giving up running a site like this though is harder than you'd think - although the topic of the WTS doesn't hold much personal interest for us anymore I still like the challenge of developing and running a busy site and it simply wasn't in a state to hand-over - especially when I still had a long list of cool features I wanted to implement!
So how did our Canada plans go? Well, in Aug 2006 we submitted our application for permanent residency to the Canadian High Commission in London, posting it the very day before we got on a plane for a nice long vacation in southern Alberta where I'd get to visit my dad and we could tour the Rockies. I had even started to have a look at getting a job in Calgary and had included it in a resume I posted on Monster. I actually applied for a job while we were over and got an interview but the interview was pretty crap. We had a great time over here though as we always did and sadly flew back to the UK and home.
As always, one of the first things I did was turn on my PC and check my email and there was a message from someone who'd seen my CV and that it mentioned an interest in moving to Canada and was trying to 'sell Calgary' to us telling us how nice it was etc... and asking if I'd be interested in the possibility. I wrote back saying I knew it was nice 'cause I was just there that very morning and would be very interested! After a couple of phone interviews and a practicum (which was new to me) they kindly paid for me to go over for a face-to-face interview. I went and stopped down at my dads in Lethbridge and bought a suit ready for my interview. It nearly all went wrong with heater on the hire-car (a nice Chrysler 300 'tank') going kaput on the drive up to Calgary on a very very cold (-30) late October day but I made it and the interview went well.
A week or two later, sat at home back in the UK I got a call from them offering me a job and asking when I thought I'd be able to come over. Recruiting someone from the UK was an experiment for them as they were trying to cope with an IT skills shortage at the time but they provided the job offer letters I needed to apply for a work permit and we planned a start date in about 3 and a half months time. Lots of time ...
Sending things off for immigration is a painful process. You just send things and wait ... and wait ... and wait, with no feedback that they have even got anything. We started getting ready to leave assuming we would be able to - selling things we didn't want to or couldn't take and packing things we would. The time we needed to book flights was fast approaching and in the end we booked them and started planning to drive down to wait in line at the Embassy to sort out the work permit if we needed to. Then, on my 40th birthday, an envelope arrived in the mail with the letter approving us for a work permit. Best birthday present ever!
So we'd had a very rushed three months getting ready to leave and waved goodbye to the UK ready to start our new life. We both quit work and the kids finished up at school with a very emotional farewell afternoon that their classes put together. I was really choked seeing them say goodbye to all their friends and reading all the nice comments they wrote to them in a book. At the airport they questioned why we only had one way tickets and checked the paperwork we had before letting us go and then we were off.
It felt very different to the normal trips for a holiday and it seems a bit surreal now that we left and hadn't even booked a hotel in advance - we were literally on a plane and homeless! I knew we could always drive down to Lethbridge if we needed to but we had things to sort out and only 3 weeks to do it before I started work. As we flew in and started the approach Angharad looked out the window then at me and said "Oh my God, what have we done!". It was completely white and looked cold. Welcome to the cold white north!
Going through immigration was pretty straightforward and much easier than many of the experiences we'd read about ... the lady took my paperwork and I was waiting for them to start asking us a whole lot of questions when she handed me some fancy official papers which were our work and study permits and said with a smile "welcome to Canada!".
We rented a car and drove off to book a hotel which was pretty easy and then we picked up some papers to start looking for somewhere to live. The people at the hotel were very good and we ended up staying there for a few days at a time and going down to Lethbridge for a few days to save on the cost a bit before coming back up. The kids thought living in a hotel was great and it was a bit of an adventure. It didn't stop snowing for the first 3 weeks we were here and we'd get all kitted up just to go across the street to a Tim Hortons for some dinner. It was great.
In the end though we found a condo to rent (after much searching and starting to get a bit panicked!) and got settled in and I started work. I was out on a client site working on a project straight away so I didn't really get to know anyone very well at the company I actually worked for and the semi-monthly meetings seemed to consist of a lot of other people working on other projects that I didn't really speak to much. After about a year I finished on the first project and started another one this time based in the office and started to get to know a few people a little better. One of the girls in the office made it her mission to get me to socialize more and really helped me to make friends with people. Since becoming good friends with many of them I realize now that we'd never really had genuine close friends all the time we were in the WTS, just associates. The company is a great place to work and people get together to socialize and you'll often get spouses, kids and even pets calling in and wondering around. Angharad has got to meet and become friends for some of my colleagues as well and we'll often meet up for drinks or to walk the dogs together.
Eventually, as it always does, the subject of religion and Jehovahs Witnesses would come up in conversation and I found myself saying that I was brought up as one. It was strange ... I'd never really talked much about it to anyone before and now I felt I could a little and it's actually really helped by talking about it. I still have trouble with some things and am a bit lost in some social situations but y'know, people really don't mind and really like to help. I've told a few of my closer friends some of my past and what it's like exiting from the WTS and loosing your friends and family and they have been very understanding and patient and helpful even if I sometimes get a little emotional and choked up when I try and explain it all. You sometimes discover that other people have similar experiences with other religions or their own family issues they have to deal with.
Like I said though, you can never be completely unaffected by the WTS while you still have family in it. I'd been on quite good speaking terms with my mother before we left and was trying to keep in touch calling them but one day she came out with "so how do you feel about Jehovah's Organisation then Simon? Don't you believe it's the truth" and then she didn't want to talk to me when she didn't get the answer she wanted. I knew there had either been a WTS out re-inforcing a more hardline stance against those who leave or someone in the cong or family pushing things in that direction. That was the last time I spoke to her. I sent an email which she never replied to and well, I guess that's that. Mum, if you ever read this, I'm sorry that you can't let me believe what I want to and live my own life. I have my own family that I care about and love and I need to do what's best for them and for me. I'll never believe what you do because I've seen the sad old wizard behind the curtain. I'm sad for you that you have spent so much of your life dedicated to a printing company and thinking you're doing the right thing for the right reasons but unable to see the real truth. I'm disappointed that you will take the words someone who you don't even know has typed up in a magazine but won't allow yourself to even listen to yours son's side of things.
But it isn't all bad. You lose one parent but you get to visit the other one more and it's nice to be here and have my dad be able to call in when he's travelling up this way.
Overall, I'm very happy with my life despite some of the lingering effects that the WTS still has. We definitely came over at the right time with the UK economy and the exchange rate how they are (it would be much much harder to move now) and the kids are doing really well over here and enjoying it - they adapted to Canadian culture and came back speaking differently on the very first day of school. Last year we got our permanent residency come through so we had to drive down to the US to 'drive round the flagpole' and officially enter Canada as permanent residents. In another couple of years we'll be able to apply for citizenship which we intend to do.
And what about JWD? Well, it hasn't been quite the focus of my life that it was although as I said I'm still affected somewhat by the JW world. I did nearly give it up around this time last year and announced I was going to close it but I'm glad I didn't. I still genuinely believe that it helps people and while I think that then I want to keep it running. I also really love writing software and am still determined to make the site the best forum there is!
We've spent nearly 10 years of our lives with this site and it's helped us tremendously as well as being a frustrating nightmare too at times but I think I've developed quite a relaxed outlook on it and it's also really helped my career as a fantastic learning tool.
What does the future hold? Apart from 'lots of snow' ... who knows. We have great friends though - we'll just enjoy it as it happens.
And that's about the end of the story for now. We get to live our life and enjoy it. Maybe a bit of a boring ending with no dramatic finale but I hope reading this maybe helps people who have their own plans of how they want to move on and change their lives feel a bit more confidents that it is possible. It did take a lot of effort to leave the WTS and to get over here but we did it. We can't let the WTS be a milstone around our knecks for ever and while we value the online friendships we've made over the years people come and go and it would be wrong to still define yourself as being the the WTS orbit. Go make a life, make good friends, be happy and successful ... everything the WTS told us we couldn't without them.