When I walk in the mornings, I love to chat with friends. Even if we live many miles apart, it’s a blessing to have friends in my ear. This week, I had two disparate conversations, and although the topics of conversation varied widely, there was a universal theme: letting go.
Early in the week, I talked with one of my best friends, my cousin Pam (pictured above with her sister, Dinah and I.) Pam used some of her time over the holidays to clear out the garage. In the last few years ‘The Happiness Project’ and ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,’ have described clearing out our physical closets to release the mental clutter that can clog our minds. Clearing out stuff really is cathartic, but it’s hard to do. Pam rallied the troops, including my equally beloved cousin Dinah who collects wine, magazines to be read and fancy bottles of shampoo from her many world-wide travels. They got a dumpster and attacked small stacks and piles each day. Pam described the relief that comes from getting rid of shit, even if it was expensive, a cherished memento or hypothetically usable for some future need. Pam and Dinah let go and felt better for the effort.
It’s hard to do. In moving my mom into our house, mom and I have had to confront our different approaches to ‘simplifying.’ Like everyone else, I keep stuff, especially photos, books, and some clothes. (Much of my closet is taken up by ‘work clothes,’ even though it’s been exactly three years since I had to go into an office with any regularity and I’m more prone to wear yoga pants from Target and T-shirts with grey deodorant stains everyday–so why do I keep the khakis?)
In general, though, I’m pretty disciplined in clearing stuff out. My relative minimalism has led to small kerfuffles with my mom. She somehow thinks the walls of her two rooms will accommodate 100+ years of family photos, many of whom are of my dad’s family in Greece, who died decades ago and who she never met. When we (and by that I mean me, my sister Kathy and a hired helper–one of Jack’s old babysitters) cleaned out her condo in California, I found many, many rolls of wax paper (used for her microwave meals.) Mom had post-it-notes in all shapes, sizes and degrees of stickiness. There were boxes of unopened neosporin tubes, clothes I’ve never seen her wear and newspaper clippings from 2007. We are still adrift in much of her detritus, but mom is slowly allowing that not everything she insisted on bringing will find a new home here in Virginia. She’s letting some of it go, slowly.
After chatting with Pam, another friend and I were talking about our pedometers. Sam needs a new phone, but because her daily step counts are recorded on her phone, she is hesitant to upgrade without the assurance the history will carry over. I totally get that–if you don’t have a record of it, it’s almost like it didn’t happen. I suspect Sam will have a new phone soon; she’ll let her record go, knowing she did still log many miles, and her strong muscles are the proof.
This theme of letting go has actually been bubbling in my consciousness for some time. About a month ago, my phone died. I lost voice memos of my dad’s last days. Pictures of Jack as an infant and toddler which were never saved in the cloud, evaporated. Notes, contacts, podcast episodes… everything washed away. I was devastated, but there was something that ultimately lifted for me, too. I didn’t have to feel guilty about saving my dad’s voice, but not listening to the recordings for fear of triggering a meltdown. I forgot some of the podcasts I had habitually listened to, but which were no longer euphoria-generating for me. I saved new pictures of Jack to my wallpaper and updated my screensaver of the almost 10-year old who smiles back at me from the screen.
Back in October, I read a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s’ first marriage. At one point before Hemingway published his first major work, a suitcase of all of his hand-written drafts was stolen from a train in Paris when his wife was trying to help him impress an important American publisher. This in a time before copies were easily made or early editions were magically saved in a computer. Hemingway returned to writing, a bit dejected, but later, many fans have said his innovative, sparse style was born out of that loss. Hemingway didn’t choose to let those hundreds of hours of work go; the universe chose it for him.
Letting go of things, especially precious relics, is difficult, but there is something more heart-breaking going on for me right now in life. I find myself having to let go of people. It’s not by choice, but circumstance. Some of my beloved friends and I have lost touch since the move to the East Coast; the time change and the distance insurmountable. I can feel them drifting away. Last night I dreamt about my college roomate, Jen. I was waving to her fondly from a shore. We’ve lived apart before and the consolation is that when our lives even out, we will reconnect, like an infinity sign. Still I miss her right now and have her Christmas card saved on my desk. I am working though accepting this hiatus of relationships. It’s happened before and then there’s a resurrection… a phone call, a visit, a move. I suspect my work right now is to let go of expectations, but maintain the love until circumstance weaves us back together.