We’re gathered around the small backyard fire, fingers spread to absorb its warmth, and I watch as a woman’s childhood crinkles colorfully in the flames. Stick figure families, die cut snowmen, grade school report cards. One by one licked by fire and turned to ash that floats above our heads like burnt snow. What made her decide after thirty plus years to burn all of the papers so carefully horded? My sister in law snapped photos of half-burnt chalk drawings and texted them to her friend, the one who had offered up her memories as kindling. It’s not like you can take all of this with you when you die, someone reflected. And why would you want to pass it onto your children? What are they going to do with a poem about cows?
Still. I found it painful to watch all of the papers curl up and reduce to nothing. I’d never met the woman, had no connection to this pile of her past, but it left me thinking about my own. Back home, I’ve made yet another commitment to reduce the amount of crap in my house, this time inspired by a college friend who has decided to move into a tiny house. She’s letting go of her material possessions systematically until she is down to the bare essentials. I admire that. I picture myself in a tiny house someday, surrounded only by the things that give me immediate pleasure. A library book. An empty journal. A pen that writes in purple ink. A single mug, filled every morning with hot tea. A fuzzy blanket. I do not need five of everything, and I certainly don’t need a house full of things I never look at or use. But letting go isn’t easy, and for me the reason is often two fold. 1. Will I need/want this someday? and 2. Can I find a new home for this? Someplace where it sill get a second chance for use.
Following the phone call with my friend, I set out to make yet another schedule (which I stuck to for exactly one week) and started in on the basement. I made wonderful progress at first: Giant bag of old blankets and towels for the SPCA! Recycled several bins full of old gift boxes! Donations brought to the local Salvation Army! And then, the memories. Pandora’s Box, so labeled because it contains all of my journals and angsty teenage poetry, and once opened sucks several hours of my life reminiscing about the drama that once surrounded me like a storm cloud. How can I part with that? I managed to get rid of several, particularly cringe worthy journals I’d written in middle school and the folders containing my papers from the first two years of college. (It took me a while to discover that hey, maybe I do need help becoming a better writer.) But now, in classic Sandi fashion, the living room looks like the 80’s exploded (I found an honest to goodness trapper keeper in there) and I’m stuck trying to figure out what to do with the stack of my elementary school report cards and four shoe boxes full of letters.
Conversation with hubby:
Me: “I just don’t think I can get rid of all this.”
Him: “And where exactly are you going to put it when you move into your tiny house?”
Me: *contemplates* “One day, when I’m retired and have nothing to do but sit around and read all day, I’m going to build a fire, then read each of these letters one by one and burn them.”
I think this is brilliant. He scoffs and walks away.
We all struggle with this, some of us more than others. Some of us hold onto each and every childhood drawing until we reach our 40’s and then suddenly decide our friend should take it away and burn it all. Some of us admire a thing, then immediately find a new home for it (in the recycling bin hopefully, and not the landfill). Some of us bust it out every few years, get weirdly emotional about that past, then box it all up again. (Hey, there’s no judgement here.) I think, hm, I could use this particular turn of phrase in my writing someday, or, yeah, it feels good to read the comments of my rhetoric professor who said I had great potential as a writer. Or I find stuff like this, written in April 2000, four months before I got married and most likely after a long night of re-reading old journals.
I must always leave something behind… so on late nights, as this one, when nostalgia shakes in my skin, I can look back on the days of naivety and passionate ramblings. I must always write, even when the passion has seeped out of me and there are no more passing fancies to idolatrize; the ink must flow from the pen until it finds inspiration. I must always dream – of greater things, of unsolved mysteries, of unrequited love, and look to these dreams for the magical message they convey. I must always love and hate myself, nurture and challenge myself, rescue and abandon myself – with equal intensity; it keeps the spirit strong.
A little dramatic, perhaps a little cheesy, but the theme is clear. There are certain things that make us who we are, and although no, we cannot bring them with us when we die, if we connect with them on a level, no matter how strange it may seem to someone else, we should find a way to keep them in our lives. And yes, this is me justifying a bit of clutter. And yes, I do still want that tiny house someday and there won’t be room for all my crap unless I seriously get a grip and let go.
But not today. I’m not ready for the flames just yet.