Last night, in the deep darkness that comes at this time of year, I got in the car and drove to an empty parking lot outside of a shopping mall. I circled around until I found the row of large metal donation bins in the corner farthest from the mall entrance; parked; opened the trunk of the car, lugged three heavy bags of children’s books to one of the bins, and tossed the books by handfuls into the clanging interior.
I estimate that I’ve read some of those books hundreds of times, talking to my young sons about the pictures, savouring the rhymes and alliteration, laughing at slapstick humour and hoping for the baby animals to be reunited with their mothers. (If you haven’t read children’s books lately, that’s a staggeringly common theme .)
We’ve set aside the books we’ll be shipping to Boston in a few weeks. Some are treasured gifts from family and friends; others are simply too delightful and beloved to part with.
(Kinda skipped over that move to Boston, didn’t I? I’ll get to that in a minute.)
When you’re moving across both a continent and a border, every single item gets evaluated. Is it worthy of shipping? Of packing into storage? Either way, you’ll be paying for the privilege of holding on to your possessions. So there’s a new calculus that gets invoked, beyond that wonderful KonMari question – does it spark joy? – and beyond its monetary value.
It doesn’t always matter how much you paid for it, and how much joy it sparks; if it won’t fit in the shipping container and it’s going to cost you an extra fifty bucks a month to store it, you will confront the question of how much it’s worth to you right now.
(This isn’t another ode to living minimally, by the way. It’s simply a letter from this moment in my life to this moment in yours.)
So about this move to Cambridge: my partner David has been offered a totally amazing job. He’s going to be teaching at Harvard. That’s particularly amazing because David isn’t an academic – so we didn’t see this coming. It was definitely not in the plans. But it is a what-what-omg-can’t-say-no opportunity. So we are moving, with our two young kids, to a new city.
And we’re working every day to focus on the adventure of it all, and the possibilities it presents, and not get swept away by the grief of saying a thousand goodbyes, of giving away our sons’ baby clothes, of leaving our beloved home.
I’m trying not to be swallowed by sorrow when the books our children teethed on clang into an echoing metal bin in a dark corner of an empty parking lot.
Not because I won’t allow myself to be sad. I will. But because the aching beauty of this experience is that it is bringing me face to face with the passage of time.
Face to face with the present. (This is what transition looks like. This is how not-knowing feels. This is the best use for this object right in this specific moment, no matter what it meant to me last week or six months ago. This is the sound of books falling into a bin, no matter how much my mind wants to fashion it into a leitmotiv of nostalgic farewells.)
Face to face with the transitory value of all material things. (The boys have outgrown the baby clothes. Those books will be better loved elsewhere. And still, the grief is here.)
And for that, I am thankful.
This is a letter from this moment in my life to this moment in yours. What does this moment hold for you?
What are you holding on to because it matters enough to keep investing in it?
What are you holding on to that has served its purpose and is ready to be released?
What do you need to grieve in the cold dark? What memories will keep you warm forever?
Where is the not-knowing that makes you so uncomfortable that you reach for your soothing balm of choice again and again?
Photo credit: RebeccaVC1 on Flickr.