Once upon a time all of us kids had finally fled the nest and my parents had found the perfect downsize home. So they wrote to all of us and said, “You have (I forget how many) weeks to come get your stuff.”
I was in my thirties by then but even so I felt lost and strangely angry. “Hey” I thought, “We didn’t get a say in this!” But of course, we didn’t get to have a say anymore.
So I picked a weekend and went home, to my soon never to be home again.
Somewhere there are photos of me hauling boxes out of the crawl space and sorting through the stuff in each one with a battered souvenir hat from the 1964 World’s Fair on my head. (It didn’t survive the day.)
Maybe I was looking for joy. But among other stuff, I found four years worth of Newsweek magazines from my junior high school days.
There was a time when I first became mature enough to understand news stories and reading those magazines felt like important steps toward becoming a responsible adult. As a mark and measure of my progress, I would carefully pile them up into a taller and taller stack.
But I preserved them because I was too young to understand the disposable nature of the news. For me, those magazines were full of important immutable truth. I had respected both their symbolic and their intrinsic value.
Those magazines joined all sorts of other no-longer-necessary symbols of passage in a sea of thirty gallon trash bags…
My mother worked for an agency which helped a lot of families so we set aside good things for her to take for the children. And there were a few treasures I decided to keep. A quarter century and ten moves later, I still have the things I saved out from that decluttering.
Then, after hours of sorting, I looked up and there was nary a trash bag to be seen.
While I had been engrossed in memory and sorting, my father had been quietly removing each bag as I filled it. They were already outside awaiting the scheduled trash pick up.
It was then that I realized how deeply ready my parents were to move on. And after doing the work, I knew I was ready too.
I appreciate their wisdom in insisting that we come take responsibility for the things we’d left behind.