Saturday, September 1, 2012
Blue Moon Jazz and A Story of Stuff
I’ve written before about letting go. As I held my slip of paper in my hand, it wasn’t letting go that was on my mind. It was the idea of holding on, or rather, what we hold on too.
Earlier this month, my 89-year old grandmother decided that the 4 bedroom house she was living alone in was simply too much upkeep and expense, and decided to move into a smaller dwelling. Within a few weeks, she’d signed the lease on a perfect little duplex apartment. Her new neighbor had a porch full of flowers and potted herbs. Wind chimes danced from a shared overhang. The apartment was tidy and quaint, the yard well-maintained, and she seemed very excited about moving in...but within a week of beginning the process, she changed her mind. She wanted to stay in her house.
Why? Because she could not live in the quaint, small apartment without letting go of some of her stuff. “I worked too hard for what I’ve got to just give it away for nothing,” she said. And despite the fact that she’d already paid two month's rent and signed a lease, she has now gone back to a house that is too much upkeep and expense simply to maintain possession all of her stuff. Huge furniture, glasses, china that hasn’t been used for about 25 years, collections of dolls, doo dads, knick knacks…when I was standing in the midst of it, realizing this is what she was bound to, I wanted to say to her, it’s only stuff! You could have had a beautiful place to live, a nice neighbor close by, and a rent that was almost half of what the mortgage you pay on the house is...but sometimes it pays to remember that when it’s nearly impossible for us to understand another person's actions, it’s just as impossible for the other person to comprehend that we don’t understand their actions.
I’m sure she will face legal repercussions for pulling out of a rental agreement, but she says she doesn’t care. I suppose, to her, not having to let go of any of her stuff is worth whatever consequences she might face. Attachment…is it ever a healthy thing? Trying to decide what to write, I look up at the night sky above me. Clouds part just enough to allow the stars to shine down. My son asked me recently if stars were really our ancestors, watching us from above. It’s an age old concept children seem to easily understand, something I've taught him since he was a toddler to believe in. Today, after school, he proudly presented me with a bracelet he’d made for me with beads and a pipe cleaner. It will not last forever, nor will I try and force it to. I treasure it, yes…but I treasure more the gesture itself, the knowledge the he was thinking of me in the moment that he fashioned this bracelet from the simplest of materials. I treasure the love behind the bracelet more than the bracelet itself. I told him, when he asked about the stars , that yes, they are the lights of our ancestors, shining down their love upon us, allowing us to see just enough of them to know there is something beyond this world. Logically, I am aware of what a star actually is…but my son is a child and therefore needs to believe there is something beyond this world, some greater purpose to our existence than the routines of daily life, than working simply to acquire and hold on to...stuff.
The night sky is as magical to him, as it is to me. He greets the stars, tells them hello as they begin to appear in the evening skies. We spent a tremendous portion of summer clearing our home from unnecessary stuff. Clothes we haven’t worn in a year? Gone. Toys he no longer plays with? Gone. Books we no longer enjoy? Movies we no longer watch? Gone. Furniture, knick knacks, and collections of doodads and things given to us that we never really liked or needed? Adios. I’m not overly sentimental; I do not hold deep attachments to material things, nor will I teach my son to. I tell him it’s the thoughts, the memories, what is in our heart that we hold on to…not things. I would never hold onto china that I wasn’t going to actually use, no matter who owned it before me. My mother fusses over my using antique bowls to mix cookie dough in the kitchen, or using an heirloom quilt on the bed…but what other purpose should these items serve? They were meant to be used when they were created. If they become damaged or broken, well...so be it. They will have served thier purpose, which isn't merely decorative.
Stuff weighs upon us, whether it is material or emotional. It locks us down, binds us to places we may not particularly want to be. It holds us to a certain place in time, keeps us paralyzed in a moment when we should be moving forward. I spent the entire summer freeing myself from the baggage of both. I’m in love now with the open spaces in my home and in my heart. I want to be able to embrace new life experiences, to pack up in a moment’s notice and head out on any new adventures that come my way. If I can't take all of our stuff, then we leave it behind. I've done this before. I think to write ‘attachment to things’ on my slip of paper, but no, I believe I’ve already conquered that. And if there were any doubts, the image of my grandmother standing alone in a house that is far too big for one person, surrounded by things that are just things and will cost nearly every amount of income she has coming in to keep, will never leave my consciousness.
The bracelet my son made for me catches my eye in the firelight, and I touch it, smiling. He opted not to come to this gathering with me, but to spend the night with a buddy instead. I allowed it because I believe giving children some degree of say-so in their own lives at an early age can negate the need for them to demand it through rebellion in the teen years. I don't know it all, by far, but I'm proud of my son and my choices in raising him. I'm proud of our hippie-ish lifestyle; that we take no medications but ibuprofen; and that we know the produce seller far more intimately than the pediatrician. In this moment, I am comforted by the vastness of the night sky, because it reminds me of the sea, and I think of my son making me the bracelet in class; how proud he was to bestow it onto my wrist; how well he played his first soccer game this week; how excited he is that his two top teeth are loose; how he bursts into my classroom full of joy at the end of each day; how in tune he is to the energy of others. I need to pay more attention, I think, to that last one. I need to pay more attention to how he reacts to the people I bring into our lives. He's never been wrong about one yet, and the ability to read another person's energy almost instantly and discern a good situation from a bad one is a gift I need to teach my child to honor. It's a gift I wish I had. In Reiki training, I learned that intuition is a voice very, very much worth listening too. I need to work harder to teach him to recognize when it is speaking to him, and I need to teach myself to do a better job of listening when my own is shouting from the rooftops at me.
But for now, I'm in this moment, surrounded by friends on a beautiful property that is home to woods, a pond, and a yoga studio, as well as home to one of the most amazing women I've ever met - a 79-year-old yoga teacher more vibrant and full of life that most people half her age. She is a living testament to another way of being in and with the world, and her presence reinforces my belief that the lifestyle I'm most comfortable with is truly the right one for me. Any advice she gave me, I think I'd take, because she radiates the energy that I wish to send into the world. She represents a place I strive to arrive in, and I am so happy here that I can't even think of one thing to write on the slip of paper. I'm in such a state of peace that I can't imagine there could still be something I still need, in my heart, to let go of. But then it comes to me, one simple word, and I quickly scrawl it on the paper, then watch it turn to ash in the fire. Judgements is the word that I wrote, and it symbolizes not only the feelings I deal with when others judge me and my actions/choices, but also my own willingness to judge the choices and actions of others. I don't understand my grandmother's behavior anymore than I undersand how a close friend can retire and choose to simply sit on a quarter of a million dollars and live on his meager retirement because he is afraid to 'start dipping into' his savings, or how another friend can keep returning, over and over, to a relationship that unhealthy to the point of being toxic and keep thinking somehow that this time it will be different...but I have to remember these are their choices, and whether or not I understand them is irrelevant to their freedom to make them...and keep making them. What would it say about me, really, if I allow myself to lose respect for another person because a decision they made was not what I felt it should be? I have to let go of judgment, and remember others may not be in the same place as me. Their path is thier own, as mine is my own. We are all bound by something, whether it be stuff; numbers on a bank statement; or the belief that another person can change. We all have something we could stand to let burn.
Beside me, someone starts to tap lightly on a drum. From somewhere else in the circle come the low, melodic notes of a flute being played. “There, behind the tree, you can see the moon” my host says. “Oh look, it’s so beautiful!” I don’t get up from my spot because I’m just feeling too warm and full of joy to move. But on the way home, later, the blue moon in its full glory stays with me, visible through the window, shining down. I think of my son, who is no doubt sleeping soundly now. I think of another person I love, of a conversation we had earlier this week, of the excitement I feel knowing a package from afar is on its way to me...
These are the things I hold on to.