In the wake of a trip involving the relocation of elderly family members who lived in the same house for 57 years and the realization of how much … stuff… adheres to us as we live our lives, I’ve decided to get serious about an on-again off-again determination Lenore and I share to “get light” – that is, to begin to get rid of at least part of the accumulation of things which for one reason or another have arrived with us here where we are now.
I’ve been culling my library of late and had a rather odd realization. I realized that my assumption that my books would be a record of interest to others, and would serve to inform them of the nature of life in general and provide them with valuable insights into my life in particular, was an illusion.
Actually they will do nothing of the sort. People have their own lives to live, and whether now or later they might come into contact with mine it will be a momentary thing, a brief encounter at best and most likely a quick brushing past, a glancing collision occurring on their own path as they move along there.
I always thought that my library would be where others, seeking to know me better and remember who I was, would go after I was dead and gone. I also thought that I might bequeath it to the child or grandchild I considered most able to benefit from it. Folly, all folly.
My library is mine, and it begins and ends there. This realization – knowing that my life is my life and the record of my coming and living and going is only mine, as temporary and briefly transitory as I am – is a relief to me. I am lighter by the weight of a certain amount of undetected self importance suddenly come into the light and quickly evaporated there.
My essential library has proven to be a collection of place markers of memory, specific to my unique experience. The books are of two types. There are books which were part of my nurture, an input of knowledge which formed my local perspective. And there are books which had the greater effect of resonating in my true nature, books which rang the internal bells of truth and essence for me.
The upshot of it all being that, since my library is mine and mine alone, I have decided to arrange my books chronologically, in the order of when I first encountered them, rather than by genre, topic or category. In doing so I’ve been reminded yet again that I’ve always felt the best place to be is here and now. The timeline revealed in the emerging re-ordering of my library marks several times in my life when I ended one path and began another, entering a new present and going forward without looking back.
It’s oddly comforting. It reminds me that I have been a seeker and a learner and was never stopped or compromised or resigned to dead ends or defeated by the weight of miseries. I moved always forward until I found my answers, my joy, and love and friendship, and the meaning of life. And like my library, those things are particularly and essentially mine even though I share them with other souls here present as well as those souls who have gone before and are now long dead. I will be dead, too, and yet I am not looking to that any more than I am looking at the past. I am here, now, and that’s enough for me.
In this process of getting light I’m discovering what I value most, and the increase in clarity which comes as some of the extra stuff in my immediate surroundings is cleared away is very enjoyable. It’s nice to see clearly what I do value about my life, and I can see that in the things I choose to keep, or am unable to let go of yet.
For now, although I sense that it will not be forever and perhaps not even for very long, there are some things I could not get rid of right now. Their days are numbered, and should it happen that a ruthless divestiture of most of these worldly belongings became necessary they would not survive the cut.
My tools stay for now because they define a part of me, and also because I know too much about how a house is built and how to fix things in ours should something go wrong, and because for some unknown time into the future my body will still be able to use tools to do so, and make whatever thing my whimsy might inspire.
There are some photographs which I will keep for now. There are many I will send to others because it seems to me they belong there, not here. Of the ones I keep for now there are only a few I will keep to me for as long as I live. I have many treasured pictures of Lenore, and some pictures of children and dogs I have known and loved – curiously part of the same category, it seems – and a few pictures of the places, and personas, I have been. Those will stay.
I will keep most of the books I have read, arranged chronologically for the personal pleasure the arrangement affords me, but I am getting rid of all the books I have read for light entertainment, and the ones I have meant to read, or tried to read, but which have not for whatever reason engaged me. They had their chance with me and I with them.
For now every pleasing knick knack stays. I could not find one I didn’t like. Each is an artful marker of memory, more so even than my books. The leaded crystal bookends which belonged to my father, the old brass Proteus barometer which came to me from a friend and old soul, all the small and artful things made of candle wax and porcelain and glass and brass and copper and iron and crystal minerals and wood – all stay. So do all the plants. They are mine, they are ours, they mark our time and our lives for us. When we are gone then they will go too, never to be arranged in this way again. But not until then.
One thing which will go before I do is my writing. All of it. I plan to remove all traces of my identity from everything I have written. I will then copy it all onto a small thumb drive, wipe my hard drive clean, put the thumb drive in a bottle, and arrange to have it dropped into the middle of the Pacific Ocean without a cork in the bottle. From there it may go where it will. That thought amuses me. I think it will sink. And I’m almost certain I hope it sinks, but the remainder of uncertainty I have about whether or not I really want that to happen seems to make the bottle drop necessary, at least for now.
I always wondered about the cowboy who, about to die, shot his horse and burned his saddle, thus obliterating his entire estate on the way out of this life. I think I understand him now, at least partly, although in my life the horse lives and only the paperwork with my name on it burns, and the saddle goes to the country thrift store.
What that cowboy meant to do is leave not a trace of himself behind, because he knew that’s the way it is. Our life is our own, and no one else’s, and only here and now, and only for as long as we have it, and we only live in that brief time, and only then can we share it with anyone.
You have to remember what comes after this life could be anything, but it won’t be this. Best live it here, and now.