Stripped away

by Jennifer on October 23, 2009

iStock_000000451694XSmallThis move was a different kind of move than I had always planned. Instead of taking everything we owned, I left a lot of things behind. The move happened pretty fast (though a lot of things had been packed for two years, in the end it was quick and dirty), which left little time to linger over each thing. Instead, I performed a quick triage. Keep. Toss. Sell. Give away.

I knew there wouldn’t be room on the truck for most of our furniture, and we wouldn’t be in our own place again for a while, so we could take only the things we really cared about. The kids’ beds and dressers, my favorite chair, my desk, a few small pieces. It was hard at first to separate emotion from practicality, to take away the layers of memory from each thing. To see a sofa, and not the place where the kids would curl up to watch TV. To see a kitchen table that could be replaced and not see Elle and Hunter’s heads bent over their homework, or the small streaks of paint that Elle had left on it, or to remember the early days when Hunter was small enough to walk underneath it without bumping his head.

For years, I’ve meant to refinish that table, to start over with just wood and sandpaper and brush and stain. But when it came time to move, I gave the table – along with several other pieces of furniture – to a young couple who had just gotten married and were setting up house. I knew they didn’t have a lot of money, and he’s in the Army, about to deploy to Afghanistan for 15 months.¬† When I saw all of the furniture loaded onto their truck, I had tears in my eyes. Not because I was sad to see it all go, but because it felt so good to pass along some of the goodness that’s been showered upon me these last few weeks. It felt exactly right.

Of all the things I gave away or left behind, that table was the only thing that I thought of later, wondering if I should have tried to hold on to it. I imagine that its new owners will refinish it now and give it a new life. It may yet see many years of homework and paint and PlayDough and comforting meals.

Here, in this lovely neighborhood where we’re living for now, I walk along the sidewalks in the evening and find myself watching the snapshots of life in the squares of windows. The curtains framing the scenes inside. People eating dinner or watching TV. The pictures on the walls. The furniture that fills the rooms.

Because I love the history of things, of houses and antiques and places, it takes¬† a great effort for me to remind myself that those lovely houses, and those pieces of furniture, don’t really tell the story – certainly not the whole story – of the people to whom they belong. No more than that kitchen table tells our story.

Because if it did, it wouldn’t speak of just the good memories, it would have to tell all of it. It would have to say that most of the time there were just three people sitting at a table meant for four.

So the table – along with so many things – is gone now, and all that the three of us can call our own fits inside a 10 X 15 storage unit. But that’s not the whole truth, either.

In starting over as we have, we’ve left behind so much that wasn’t really needed, the most significant of which was the idea of a life that couldn’t ever have happened the way we hoped or imagined. I gave up what would never be, while putting to rest what never was. It was the only way to make room for another set of possibilities, other dreams, ones that will find their foundation in this new reality.

I hope that my children will come to know someday that what we have left now, what is truly ours, is what is real. The love of our family and friends, this new life that we can make into whatever we want it to be. That our comfort or our happiness isn’t tied to that table or to the other furniture, any more than the wind is tied to the earth. The tethers that hold us in place, that keep us grounded, are the ones that tie us to the people we love.

And though there are days when it feels like we’re starting over from nothing, days when I have to be gentle with this bruised pride of mine, when I’m scared that I won’t be able to manage what’s ahead, when I can’t believe that I’m starting over at this point in my life, I have to remind myself how lucky we really are. Because when everything else is stripped away, we’re still left with more than enough. Something solid and true, something blessedly, perfectly, unfinished.

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