Life is afoot, and in this new season of things, a little rearranging must take place. But in order for that to happen, I need to create some new storage space. Which means, of course, I am purging through boxes of stuff in the basement.
A couple of times a year, I go through the things I have stored in closets, getting rid of this or that. I'm always amazed at what I'm paring down. There's something more to get rid of every time, even though for the most part, the stash o' stuff never changes. I am just ready, at various stages, to part with this or that. The basement is a little more interesting. The stuff down there has been there since I moved into this house 14 years ago, except for that one terrible summer when the basement flooded. I got to go through too much stuff then and get rid of more than I was ready to.
That's not this story.
I have previously written about my criteria for keeping or tossing an item, and that was true. Sort of. It was also kind of a lie. Because as life moves on and things develop, as my heart and my mind and my story mature, my criteria change. I noticed this last night when I came across some trophies, some books, and a pile of tiny wooden Christmas ornaments.
For the longest time, I've kept a lot of "records." Report cards, papers I got a good grade on, cards from this person or that person, notes of encouragement, mentions of praise. Ribbons, trophies, plaques for participating. I've kept these things because these seem to me the kinds of things everyone keeps. After dad died, I found every school paper he'd ever completed, every card for every occasion that everyone had ever given him dating back to "Happy 2nd Birthday Bob," a list of awards and merits and honors and achievements...and I didn't know what to do with them.
He kept them, I think, because they meant something to him, just as my sorts of things have meant something to me. I think sometimes we keep these things, and I'm speaking from my own heart here, because we have these lingering questions and doubts about ourselves and if we can point to something we did, particularly something we did well, or if we can show documentation of this thing we were a part of, maybe our hollow places don't seem so empty.
The problem is that when people go through your stuff after you die or move or get married or whatever empowers people to start going through your things, whatever you're holding onto is also the story you're telling.
If I hold on to every school paper I got a good grade on, every participation plaque from Boys & Girls Club sports, every made-up award I received (like the 8th-grade honor for "commitment to kitchen cleanliness" in home-ec), then the story I am telling is that I am an achiever. I did things, and I did things well. I excelled. I achieved. I participated. I won. My heart absolutely sank last night, going through some of these things, and thinking that this was the story I was going to leave my kids to discover?
These things have been my story in some ways. There's no denying that, and it's not that I would want them to be wiped out. It's not that I want to not tell this part of the story. It's that I don't want these things to define my story. Because these things are the story of my insecurities, my questions, my doubts. They look like good things on the outside, but I know they were levees against darkness. That's not the story I want to tell.
The story I'm telling does not deny the good things, nor does it deny my insecurities, but I want to leave my children the story of my heart. I want them not to see how my life wrestled with doubt but how my heart did, how my love responds to questions. Not how my life responds. I don't want them to think that this life holds the answers for the hard questions or that by throwing themselves into something, they can get out of anything. I want them to understand the reality of this place and know how to write their own stories by discovering mine. They don't get that from piles of papers and plaques. I shudder to think of my children writing the story of achievement when there is so much more to living in this place.
I want them to know how to write a story of mercy. I want them to know how to write a story of grace. I want them to know how to write a story of surrender and silliness and questions and answers and dark places and light places and hollow places and hallowed places. I want them know how to write a story of life. I want them to write a story of love. And I just don't think they get that from one day discovering that their mother won an award for dishwashing. (Although the novelty of this still amuses me.)
So as I go through the basement, I'm trying to be careful. I want to share my life with my children one day, and I want to have some of my memories to hold onto myself. But I don't want to tell the wrong story. I want them to know what was important to me. I want them to share in some of my favorite moments and pasttimes and things. I want to sit on the edge of their beds and read them Berenstain Bears stories (I just found the whole stash, nearly-complete collection last night). I want my little girl (and little boy, if he so desires) to go to dance class and see the video tapes of mommy dancing when she was their age. I may or may not show them my trophies. I want them to see enough of my report cards to understand that school was important to me, that I believe in knowledge, and I want them to see enough projects to know that education is about more than grades. I want to share with them the things my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother have passed down to me, and I want them to know the stories so that when they share these things with their children, they appreciate the heritage.
But I want them to know that the essence of my life, of their life, of life in general, goes beyond what you do or what you have or what you hold onto. It's about the story you're telling with your life, about how you live, about how you love. I'm not sure you can do that with "things." Which is why I'm trying to be mindful as I purge yet again...mindful of the story I'm telling.