Thank you for your vulnerable and open hearted sharing. “Death cleaning” resonates for me as my husband passed away August 11. And now I have COVID! After 10 years of his illness, taking all precautions to avoid any infection coming his way. So now I am, perforce, resting. Not too sick, and in blessed isolation. I read your letter with great compassion for that younger man. “Using all resources.” In my life I’ve been too distractible. So far.
So do I appreciate this timing, and Jerusha's comment. I'm living in the house my husband and I have shared since we came to Southampton (UK) when he got his second job and I became jobless. That was 54 years ago - years filled with bursts forward full of adventure and then blockages, babies that didn't make it to birth and one that, gloriously did. Now we're both a bit old and infirm, the horizons have drawn in a bit narrow, and we have several rooms that look like partial versions of your basement - though with none of the distintion of foreign editions of our books. I keep imagining the horrible task of clearing it all out when we're gone, and wishing we could do it instead while we can still enjoy it. I have perennial bouts of 'weeding', intended to be to spare our son that horrible task. But they're always a bit of a joy - I find things I wrote as a student with a verve and confidence that I've never recovered, letters from people thanking one or other of us for things we forgot we did for them, and have been thrilled to remember. So, with your two promptings, I think we should do it while we're alive, and move our horizons outward again.....
Here's a twist on Death-Cleaning Revelations:
While suffering from a host of self-inflicted wounds, Mother Nature decided to pile on, and wipe out my house with floodwater from a hurricane. Unnecessary roughness. It was weird going through ruined photos, albums, letters, yearbooks, and keepsakes. The experience wasn't liberating, not a bit. It left a mark.
I couldn't rise and dust myself off because there was no dust. So, I wrung myself out, and started anew. When I rebuilt the house, and filled it with things devoid of sentiment, I realized I wasn't the same man as before. Fortunately, I had no time to dwell on this problem because my brand new house was once again wiped out by a hurricane—the second catastrophe in three years. Hahahahaha…good times.
I loved this post, George. If I were there, I'd help you with the big, less personal items. I'm good at it.
Dear George, when the kitchen is packed (well, when everything is packed), maybe you will write back to the 1989 George. Tell him, from the heart, just how well he's done.
Thank you for sharing all of these realizations in the midst of so much work and change.
Oh, that letter! "I have nothing to offer the world when I am careful." Going to be writing this on a card above my desk.... Thank you for sharing this.
I really appreciate the timing of this post.
My husband and I have lately been the beneficiaries of my in-laws own "death-cleaning." They started the process a couple of months ago and unloaded the final truck this morning.
It has been a beautiful process and a gift. So many stories, photos, memories uncovered.
The biggest blessing is the ability to ask them about their treasured items while they are still living, rather than wonder about them after they have passed. Thanks, George!
ps. the letter. now a manifesto posted by my desk. thank you young George for writing and for current George for sharing. gems: "I have slavishly imitated other writers..." "I have nothing to offer the world when careful." "Listen only to memory." "...only if your goal is to learn, not to finish, impress or prove."
I asked a famous author
If he would share a sketch
He wrote and drew in younger days
And he said, "What the heck."
They're really kinda silly.
They really are a hoot.
But best of all his goofiness
Shows we can draw them, too.
So, if you know the George-man,
But even if you don't,
Take up your pen and do like him
And get in on the joke.
It's fun to laugh and giggle.
Sounds stupid but it's true,
The whole world may have gone to heck,
But we know what to do!
I love that letter so much, especially the line: "If only your goal is to learn, not finish or impress or prove." Thank you for writing and sharing!!
As I have just in the past three weeks packed up our small apartment, fit it all into a 5x8 foot u-haul trailer, filled the back and backseat of a Suburu Outback with traveling items, though I buried my guitar on the bottom - Doh! - this “death-cleaning” comes to me fresh as we are on day #2 of our 9-day cross-country move and road trip from Atlanta to Seattle. We are currently in eastern Texas on I-20, 2 hours outside of Dallas.
As a treat, we’re listening to the audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo. What a fun listen - though I admit it helps to have read the book. The voice of the Reverend sounds familiar - so I’m particularly interested in Sunday’s offering. We will be traveling from Flagstaff, AZ to Bakersfield, CA and look forward to reading about the Reverend.
Enjoy your move, George. Thanks for the pictorial.
That manifesto is wonderful. Thanks for sharing it. I like knowing that you stole office supplies, too.
That last paragraph - man. Nails it. Thank you.
One of my favorite parts of “Lincoln in the Bardo” has been not knowing if the Reverend went to heaven. Here on earth, we don’t get to *know*, do we? I appreciated that the mystery of his eternity was kept between him and God. So I’ll spend the next three days deciding whether to read Sunday’s post or … skip it?
George - la Boda - what do you reckon? Salvageable or no?
Love the little poems and the note to self. This all feels like a little video in real time of a person casting off artifice and opening up to all the beauty and life buried within. And is therefore liberating and inspiring to everyone.
Who knew death cleaning could be so life-affirming? Thank you so much for this!!
I loved your letter to yourself (like many others here, I'll print it out for keepers). And your doodles/poems remind me as much of Shel Silverstein as they do of Dr. Seuss. I hope the move goes well. I guess this means you aren't teaching at Syracuse any more? I told one of my son's graduated cross-country teammates who just started as a freshman at Syracuse to take a writing class from you if he could, even if he's majoring in mechanical engineering or something like that. Let me know if you are continuing to teach somewhere else and I'll send graduating runners that way instead. :)
George always brings me up short. Then I have to scramble through the mess to get the message: it has to be from the heart. And it has to be FUN! If you get that, then with hard work and many tears you might find "your own simplicity." The simplicity I want is complex, though. Like Grace Paley. But first, back to the heart and the fun.