“Empty and be full
Wear out and be new
Have little and gain
Have much and be confused.”
I’m pocked with possession-shaped craters; battered, raw and unprotected. Tearing away the brittle exoskeleton made of material things does this. But I also feel more alive than in decades.
Last summer, I sold our family home and gave away our things. I jettisoned the accumulated ballast from twenty-two years in three weeks. Our winter coats, weedy yard and boxes of Christmas ornaments are gone. Those things belong to others now.
We have a twenty-two year old car, the dog and our family of four in a temporary furnished rental. We are terrifyingly free of personal possessions.
Almost everything we live with is rented. When we leave, these sheets will be slept on by another. When we’re gone, these towels will dry someone else. The furniture and dishes belong to the apartment. The table tops are covered with glass protectors. The heaps of books stacked on the coffee table belong to the county library. The piano is rented.
I feel surprise that I do not ache and weep more for my lost things. I pruned our roots short.
Even our personal possessions are impersonal: utilitarian clothes, nail clippers and aged laptops. Everything we brought fit inside the trunk of our small sedan. There was one carry-on size bag for each of us plus our computers.
Now we sit on this sunny window sill in our rented jar.
With fewer things, the value of each remaining possession has increased. I suspect the inverse of this principal is true as well. The more stuff you have, the less you value any individual piece of it. Your first pair of shoes is wealth. Forty pairs are dusty clutter.
I read a documentary in an old magazine. It described the farmland evacuated after the meltdown of the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl. Deer stood shoulder-deep in golden-green grass. Young twiggy trees had sprung up.
There was a photo of an abandoned house. It was furnished with a wooden table, chair and shelf. White curtains fluttered in the open window. On the table was one bowl, one spoon and a blackened metal cook pot. Three glass bottles glistened on the high shelf. In that emptiness, the bottles became treasures.
Robert bought me a book of Sufi poetry for my birthday last month. I was wearing out the library’s copy. I made a cover from a paper grocery bag to protect my four-dollar used book. When I go to bed, the book seems like an alter on my bedside table.
My twelve year old collects sticks and shells. He keeps fortune-cookie sized scraps of paper with his poetry inked in tiny print. My seventeen-year-old collects new jazz riffs and the pages he draws for his graphic novel. My husband collects coins he finds when we walk and the code he writes for his software.
I collect thoughts, feelings and words.
My life is more rich and savory now. Since I’m less insulated by possessions, there’s an intensity of flavor that’s taken me by surprise.
Juice drips from my chin.
Thanks for reading.
Alice Keys MD