We are a culture of things. We are driven, propelled, and compelled by our desire for things. We want new things, fancy things, shiny things, valuable things, the latest and greatest things money can buy. We acquire, collect, stock, store, and even hoard things. But there comes a time of reckoning, an occasion when we must account for all of our things. Often this reckoning comes in the form of moving.
Moving is ranked among the top 5 most stressful life events. Alongside death, divorce, major injury or illness, and losing a job, moving is one of life’s most intrinsically distressing experiences. And that is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks.
The home I’m moving out of has been owned and occupied by members from both sides of my family for three long generations. Perpetually inhabited by musicians, my house sings the songs of a cacophony of memories, both sweet and bitter, enlightening and burdening, remembered and forgotten. The majority of its music, though, is melancholy. Or perhaps, at some point, the sad songs began playing more loudly than the happy songs, and the house became a symphony of sorrow. I abandoned it a few weeks ago, when suddenly the music became too painful to hear any longer. I snuck back in every few days to grab clothes, and drop off boxes and packing supplies, just to give myself the feeling of actually making progress. Yesterday, though, I had to “face the music”. My mom and I set off, stalling for an hour or more at Starbucks before finally pulling into the driveway, opening the garage, and taking a big deep breath. We started sifting through our memories as if we were combing the rubble after some sort of natural disaster…and, in essence, we were.
There were so many things.
There were yearbooks and letters and faded photographs. There were keys to unknown doors, duplicates and triplicates of junk we can’t stop buying, and Halloween decorations we’d been missing for years. There were books and trinkets and the remnants of relationships past. There were also landmines; those things that carried experiences we’d consciously forgotten had existed. The things that held those harrowing memories had haunted us, bound us, smothered and imprisoned us. However, in finding them, feeling them, and finally releasing those things and their painful memories, we began making room for future blessings we still have yet to experience.
Among the various piles for donations, throwaways, and keepers, my mom set aside a separate pile she aptly referred to as her “special things”. Her pile was dwarfed by the mountains of things we planned to finally release from our stronghold. Her little collection of treasures, however, amounted to more value and importance than any of the other piles combined. Her items included sea glass and seashells, love notes, old photos, and a cross I remember her wearing around her neck when I was young. That tiny collection of special things was a symbol of life’s most cherished prizes. Some things were valuable on their face, other things anybody else might have overlooked, but to her they were all emblems of her happiest moments.
We lugged and slammed and dragged and trashed but, at the end of the day, I watched as my mom delicately picked up her basket of special things and held it close to her heart as she whisked it away from the rubble. And just like her small, unassuming treasure trove, I began to understand that life’s most important things aren’t necessarily the big, expensive things; oftentimes the most meaningful things are the tiny vestiges of fleeting moments and memories we hold within, safe from the turmoil of the outside world. And while these little things are just things, they are also memoirs of our most extraordinary experiences, carrying boundless sentimental value.
Together, my mom and I drove away from our family home, special things safely in our laps. And in that moment, fresh from releasing our grip on all those other things, we truly had every-thing.