I’ve been on a memory blitz this month. Other people might call it cleaning. The whole adventure was prompted by my second retirement, which made the fact of my age quite clear to me. We are in the process of making several changes financially and legally to prepare for the last season of our lives. We are also facing the reality of leaving our home in the next few years. Others may call that downsizing; I’m preferring to say re-positioning.
Anyway, the combination of all that thinking plus the announcement that our neighborhood is sponsoring that good old American tradition – the yard sale -in June motivated me to overturn our house, looking for things we can re-purpose, give away, sell, donate or just dump. No closet, drawer, box, nook or cranny has been free from the inspector’s microscope. My husband has become quite proficient at disappearing (physically or mentally and certainly emotionally) when he sees me approaching with something in my hand and the “do you really need this?” look in my eye. (How many tool boxes and screw drivers does one man need?)
Several criteria were in my mind when I began sorting: Do we really need this? Will we have a place to put this when moving day comes? Would someone actually buy this? Who can we give this to? Do I really want my sons burdened with deciding what to do with this after I die? As I moved more and more slowly through the weeks, I added a new criterion: “What memory does this hold?”
That last question slowed the process dramatically when I got to the box of “orphan photos” that never made it to an album – which was 90% of them That process took hours. Yesterday I found more photos, so Memorial Day is looking like an appropriately – named day for album-filling. Then I came to the file drawers. More hours! Cards and letters to re-read from jail in-mates I had tutored and appreciations from other people it appears I had mentored without knowing. A writing file full of newsletters I had written/edited and newspaper articles (with a by-line!) that I didn’t remember writing. Papers from conferences I had attended or spoken at. A huge file of quotes that I had collected since I was in high school. I spent many days on the floor going down memory lane. And then there were all the “business” papers to sort. Now I’m so proud of my clearly-labeled plastic file boxes (with handles, no less – for easy moving).
Yesterday, I finished the last closet and looked to the walls. Framed paintings or photos everywhere. I’m know we will not have enough walls to hold all these in the future. As I walked around the house trying to decide what to eliminate, I made a fascinating discovery. Everyone of them has a deep memory behind it. I have six prints from a trip to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C when my sons were in elementary school which I had framed and have moved with me for decades. There are 3 Andrew Wyeth prints which I bought from the Book-of -the Month Club as a teen and saved for months to frame.
There is the Serenity Prayer (a wedding gift ). There is the Make Me an Instrument poem and a rendition of Isaiah 42:16 which I gave my mother along with other beautiful scenes I had given her throughout her lifetime. Now they are mine. There are plaques proclaiming me Woman of the Year by the Lapeer County Chamber of Commerce (now there’s a story I need to tell someday) and the Make a Difference award from the Michigan Chapter of the National MS Society. There is a big wall map with pictures of my five Compassion-sponsored children Some of my favorites are beautiful photos of flowers and gardens from calendars years ago which I framed to cover the very white and tall walls of our new manufactured home.
One of my most cherished is a huge photo of Lake Michigan, beautifully framed, given to me by a man with whom I served on the Michigan Literacy board. One day years ago he talked to me of Pink Floyd and a song about a can of worms -which symbolized the nothingness and depression of his life. I talked to him about Genesis and Jesus, as I recall. Months later he presented me with this photo he had take and enlarged. It came along his grateful “words-tumbling-out-of-the-mouth-as-fast-as -they-could” story of the night when Jesus became his Lord and friend.
Now I have two new wall hangings given to me upon my retirement: a wonderful abstract painting of the Cross redeeming chaos, given to me by a member of my team at Christ Memorial Church. (I also have two posters she created about spiritual formation that I framed and hung in my office at work. They now hang in my writing room at home.) Finally there is a beautiful graphic design on framed glass of lyrics to a song we use in our Apprentice classes created by an Apprentice teacher.
The memory blitz is over and all of these remain on my walls. These works of art are lovely, but no one will really appreciate them as much as I do. It is the memories behind them that make them special. When it is time “re-position,” I won’t use the criteria I listed above to dispose of them. I will take photos of them and attach them to a copy of this blog, so that my children and grandchildren will understand more about the life that collected these beautiful things.