Covid, quarantine and a brand new life are forcing that question. What parts of an old life belong in this new one?
I had forgotten that my dining room table, which had been repurposed as a desk when I moved to Eugene last year, came apart. The legs, not just the leaf, which I’d already removed. I was wrestling the damned thing down my hallway, breaking the hallway night lights and knocking my carefully-hung paintings askew.
Really? My mover came upstairs.
“You can take those legs off,” she smiled. We laughed. Oh how quickly we forget.
The table is the latest in a long line of large items which I had bought to populate my last house. It represented a failed hope to have dinner guests, a place to break bread with some kind of family. That never happened. Along with a lot of other furniture that I had decided to move up to Oregon last year, the dining room table will be sold at Fine Consign.
They have been really terrific at two things: taking my nice older pieces and selling them at prices that raised my eyebrows (as well as giving me LOTS more back than I had planned on) and providing me with everything from a big leather easy chair to gorgeous wall art. All unfamiliar, still, but a far better fit for this house.
What gets moved out and traded off inside me is another matter entirely. What parts of my old life do I want to keep? Let go?
This past week I got several emails which indicate that my adventure travel business is back in business, albeit with a great many more hoops to jump through. All manner of Covid tests and documentation to prove I am safe. I am triple-vaccinated but those things can easily be faked. So, lots of new and complex requirements.
My buddy Rosenna Bakari said recently that so many people are having a hard time if they are overly identified with a way of life pre-Covid and that way of life is no longer available. I wondered about the travel work, but it’s there. Not without major changes, though. That part of me moves with me into the future, although adapted for post-Covid reality.
Therein lies the challenge. As I face down 70, this move has allowed me to consider what I need to leave behind and what comes with me. Lots of people love to bandy about the idea that they can leave trauma and bad memories behind, as if they didn’t happen. Rosenna has just written a brand new book about that and a lot more called The Healing Journey, which I happily get to preview today. That book, filled with Rosenna’s immense wisdom, is part of why I am writing this article. I needed a break, and wanted to consider some of what her words mean to me in my here and now.
One of the reasons I love Rosenna’s work is that she is very clear, as am I, about how the internal demons we carry from childhood abuse and sexual trauma do not define us in our totality (unless we let them). She also warns that there is a temptation to have our pain be our badge of honor. I’ve read more than a few Medium writers who pen about nothing but their pain. While I understand that this touches a responsive chord with many readers, at some point it also acts as an anchor. As long as we allow our pain to define us, we will never reach any kind of fulfillment or joy. We might make money but that’s one hell of a tradeoff, to my mind.
So what do I keep, what do I leave behind, what do I hold precious?
Moving to Eugene was the culmination of a long-held dream to live in ferny woods. Now I am. However, as the old saw goes, wherever you go, there you are. The “you” has changed. There is nothing I have left behind, no parts of me that I tossed away back in Colorado, and nothing that I am trying hard to avoid or deny. Perhaps that’s the larger point. As the big pieces of furniture are hauled away, sold and replaced, as I settle into a new home, there is a far deeper settling into the self that has become far more comfortable. The chunks and potholes and divots that make up the larger me are my geography.
I own all of it, but the pain of certain parts of it does not own me. I can write about it without those truths leaving great scars on my psyche.
I have finally stopped trying to change, rewrite or deny those parts of myself and my history that have helped me become who I am. We can’t. Those events happened, the truth of them exists. How we choose to move forward and interact with those facts is far more important than claiming to the world at large that I’M CHANGED AND I’VE LEFT ALL THAT BEHIND ME.
As if sexual assaults and incest could be bundled into a suitcase carelessly left on the station platform.
Like all unwanted luggage, it will make its way back to us, for the contents are too important to ignore. For example, speaking of baggage:
An ex showed back up, a very big part of my past, and he was recently invited on his way again. He’ll be back because that’s what he does. What’s different is how I interact with him and that situation.
Rosenna writes: “We can feel relieved by a breakup even though we miss the relationship.”
Precisely. That kind of emotional and intellectual complexity and maturity come with time and practice. Of course I miss him. But I don’t miss the mess. And being able to let go of the mess and miss him anyway isn’t a statement of failure. It is in every way a statement of self-care and self-love. I love him. But I love myself more, and that means distance, boundaries, and the sweet solace of my own excellent company.
And having done that might well make room for a healthier connection.
I moved after fifty years in Denver for so many reasons, but the main one was that I needed to do a great many things differently. I’m getting a chance to do just that. All of us are. Whether you came to the realization that your significant other actually wasn’t so significant, or the work you were doing was most definitely not your calling, or the hot mess that you thought you were was in fact, just hot, and not so much a mess, then you also have precisely the same chance I do right now.
In her new book Rosenna emphasizes that when you and I do things differently we see ourselves differently. That’s why, last Tuesday, I went to my first aerial silks beginner class. While I will be out of country for five weeks, I will be going back to that class. That’s despite shoulder and hand surgery in my near future. Why not? I also got active in my local bodybuilding community. Am looking into martial arts.
WHY THE HELL NOT?
As I let go of some things that I used to identify with and which I allowed to identify myself, there is room for a plethora of brand new activities, people, experiences. Classes I always wanted to take but didn’t. I am not leaving parts of me behind. Rather, because we are effectively infinite, I am finding more and more parts that have simply waited for me to discover them.
I never knew that I had it in me to build an entire smorgasbord of bird feeders, suet, bubbling bird baths, decorative plants (about $95 of roughage for the local deer population, thankyouverymuch) and a happy, peaceful gazebo.
Yet there you are. Such small things allow me to see that there are so very many chambers that simply wait for me to explore them. The Deep Work I’ve done allows me to do that not as a way to escape pain, but to heal it, explore it, and give it a place to be soothed in the exquisite company of bird song.
Okay, okay, so the Stellar’s Jays sound like your pissed-off mother-in-law on meth, but still.
I walk towards the fear of aging alone, knowing that I won’t. I like people too much, and am too good at making friends for that to happen. As with all things, as I redefine myself as I age, those subtle and not-so-subtle shifts will make room for lots of different kinds of friendships. Now that my house is very nearly done shy of a few projects, I have my home base. That means it’s time to head out.
As I wrap up this lovely day, a day in which I hand-watered some new ground cover which is merrily taking over my hillsides, lovingly removed an ancient, broken azalea which was scorched to death by the recent heat waves, I tend to my garden. That space will be taken up by a big new maple, offering shade and orange-red beauty to my yard. My gardens.
New home. New life. New surroundings. Same me, but subtly different ways of interacting with that same me. Is it time for you to do that, too?
Covid, quarantine, a huge move, the daily letting go of things, facing down feelings, embracing the great beauty of where I am even as it is changing as we speak, my life continues to bloom.
(for those interested in pre-ordering Rosenna’s new book please see https://rosennabakari.shop/)