Big Moves

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   May 23, 2023

Crossing oceans has been a feature of my family background. My mother’s parents, a poor English couple, started the trend by moving from London to Toronto, where my mother was born (one of five) and grew up as Amelia Adler (quite a good-looking girl, if the photos are any indication). Ocean travel was then still only by ship, and a ship took Amelia, when in her 20s, over to England to visit some of her relatives who had not emigrated. There she met a young British bureaucrat named Victor Brilliant, who fell in love with her, and induced her not only to marry, but to settle with him an ocean voyage away from what she would always consider her “home.”

For a few peaceful years (the early 1930s), they lived a conventional suburban life, having two children – me and, two years later, my sister, Myrna. When I was 5, Amelia took both her children back across the ocean on what was planned to be a short trip to see her family in Toronto. This turned out to be one of the biggest moves of our lives. Everything was changed by a gentleman named Hitler. The onset of what became the Second World War made it too dangerous for ocean crossings. We stayed in Toronto for two years. 

Then it was my father who made the next big move – though he almost didn’t survive the attempt. Hoping to rejoin us, he was on a British merchant ship at the height of what was called the Battle of the Atlantic. It was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. Most of the people aboard got off in time. So, our family was reunited, but this meant another big move, from Toronto to Washington, D.C., where my father was stationed.

Five years later came more moving. The war was over, and we had to go back to an England I could hardly remember. But I remembered America very well, and took the first opportunity, after going up through school and college in London, to come back. It was California that particularly attracted me, and at the end of this move, I settled for a while in
Los Angeles. 

Most of my moves were then on the West Coast, with what appears to have been a final one to the resort town of Santa Barbara.

But in the meantime, there began for me a whole new series of moves, of the type we call “Travel,” or, more vulgarly, “Tourism.” Here the essential difference is that, instead of finishing up in a place called “Somewhere Else,” you find yourself (in the words of a well-known song about California) “Right Back Where I Started From.” Some of these outings, however, were on so grand a scale that they almost qualify as veritable Big Moves. There were, for example, two occasions – of 3½ months each – on which I sailed (as a teacher) entirely around the world on board a large cruise ship which had been converted into a “floating university.”

Then there were some fantastic (in the sense of fantasy-fulfilling) journeys I made with my wife, Dorothy. One included going overland all the way across Australia. Another had us crossing the widest part of South America as the midpoint of a three-month jaunt from San Francisco to Cape Town, South Africa.

But there are other big moves we make in our lives, besides the geographical ones. One such move can, for many of us, be a change of “faith.” I was born into a moderately Jewish family, attended Hebrew School, and had a Bar Mitzvah. And, at my parents’ insistence, both of the women with whom I was ever seriously involved (one of whom I actually married) were officially converted to Judaism. Yet I am now, and for most of my life have been, a total non-believer; not only having no religion, but not really believing in anything at all.

I have also had a big change of careers. I started out as a teacher (in, of all places, Hollywood High School), but soon realized that, for me, the job must be at a higher level. After four years spent getting a UC Berkeley Ph.D., my first full-time college teaching role was my last. I somehow wound up as perhaps the world’s only professional writer of epigrams. So, finally, here’s one on big moves:

No journey is ever complete
until you come home again,
or until some new place becomes home.


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