Every now and again, the time comes in life to get rid of things you once held dear. Most of us do this sort of thing in the spring and call it "spring cleaning." But if you're anything like me, you may find it takes several spring cleanings to convince yourself you're ready to get rid of something, and another several springs to actually let go.
It's not that I ever plan it to be that way. I'll got through my things, set out a pile for yard saling or goodwilling, then in the process of moving that pile to a designated location within my house, something will catch my eye and I'll say....maybe not yet. A couple of years later, I'll realize I've said the same thing for a couple of years about the same item but have not actually done anything with the item but put it back in a box in storage. Then the day comes to move it not just to a designated location but to a new home entirely, and something in my heart gasps. There's a part of me that isn't ready to let go. There's a part of me that is torn.
When I realize that the items in question aren't all that meaningful (in fact, many of them are downright silly), I've had to stop and ask myself what in the world is going on with my heart. The truth is that everything I've never regretted getting rid of anything once I've let it go. And the truth is that the things that I've let go don't actually mean anything to me. But it stings all the same. What gives?
And finally, it hits me. After so many years of this, with so many different things, it's happened again and I suddenly realize what all the trouble is. It's this: not that I particularly love these little trinkets of my past, but that I once loved them.
I will hold these things in my hands and that old feeling of what they once meant to me washes over. I imagine I'm not alone in this. If you really think about it, maybe this is your trouble, too. It's that feeling of remembering all of the Christmases you asked for a thing, and then finally got it. It's that feeling of all the nights you stayed up late playing with it. It's that feeling of surprise when you didn't even know they made such a thing, but here it is. It's that feeling of knowing who gave you that thing, and when, and what it meant in your life at the time. It's...remembering how much you loved it and realizing, painfully, that maybe you haven't loved anything that much in a very long time.
That's what hit me. I used to get excited about these things! I used to hold them close to my heart! I look around my life now, and it's filled with so many intangibles. The process of aging, and maturing, I suppose. My life now isn't defined by stuffed animals or t-shirts or the collectibles that my family kept buying when I was kid. It's not defined by the puzzle that took me years to finally figure out, or the books I stayed up all night reading. In fact, I was recently asked to bring an object that defined my life to a group, as part of introducing myself, and I couldn't think of one. I brought something lame, but knew the whole time it wasn't quite it. More recently, I took part in a photography project and was invited to bring props, if I felt so inclined. I couldn't even think of what to wear! I couldn't even decide what piece of clothing I'd want to mark my life with in this season. But again, I took something lame and now that's forever.
My life right now is not defined by things, so it's harder to hold onto that kind of passionate love. The kind I once had for things, things that have come and gone, things that are tucked away, things I haven't seen in sometimes 15 years but still evoke a strong sense of loving within me...long after I realize I don't love them any more. I just get so attached to the love of loving in a moment like that, and it's hard to let go.
Because I think about what anyone going through my life today might say. What they might discover. They could easily look around and say, "We're not...really....sure what she loved. Nothing, I guess." That's the truth. If you look around, you'll find nothing I'm attached to, nothing I love. No thing that satisfies anything within me. On the surface, it all looks rather depressing. Where is the joy? Where is the love? Where is the passion?
It's fleeting, but it's there. And as the days go by, it's a more stable, more reliable presence in my life. It's there in the intangibles, in relationships and service and the smile on my face. In the bounce in my step. In the praise in my song. It's there in a way that would never fit in a box, that wouldn't go for much in a yard sale, that wouldn't be valued at goodwill. It's there in a way I could never hold onto it yet nor could I let it go. It is powerfully there.
As I laid in bed this weekend thinking about this sort of thing, I came to the conclusion - isn't that better? Isn't that what I'd rather it be? I have had the unfortunate experience in my life of losing loved ones - family, friends. A parent. I've had the gut-wrenching experience of sorting through their belongings, weeding through their things, understanding what meant the most to them over the years of their lives. And I've never been inspired to start collecting things because someone I love treasured them. Not once. I've never even felt obligated, for long, to hold onto things because they meant so much to someone I love. For awhile, sure, but that's a part of letting go. In the end, you realize those things don't mean a thing.
But I have always been inspired, humbled, and downright blessed by something else entirely. By the intangibles that start coming out when someone leaves us. By the steady stream of people who walked into the viewing of my father's body, carrying stories of the ways he'd touched their lives. By the standing-room-only at the back of the funeral parlor because that many people wanted to hold on just a little bit longer. By the stories that come out in eulogies across our land. I've heard them at every funeral I have ever been to, and whether I knew the person well or only by a tangent, I have always been inspired by the way people have secretly lived their lives. Things I would never know if it weren't for the stories.
When I look for the stories in my life, they are overwhelmingly there. And I'm humbled to think that I probably only know a small portion of them. That's what I'm thinking about these days when I'm thinking about things. I love that feeling of love when I hold an old beloved in my hands, some treasure that once meant so much to me; it's easy to lose that feeling of love in the intangibles of the story, but if you look for it, it's there. You don't, I think, have to worry about losing your love. Which means you can let go of those things that aren't telling your story any more. You can send on those items and you never know, they may make a new love story of their own somewhere.
I don't think I'll ever get rid of everything. There are things that are still important to keep, things that have been such a huge part of telling my story that I think they are important to hold onto. To remember where I've come from. To remember how I got here. To remember where it is I've wanted to go. But those things I'm holding onto just because they remind me what it was like to love? That's not enough. Life is love, if I'm doing it right, and if I pour what I've got into old wineskins, we're both going to crack. I choose to pour out my love on the world. I'm building stories. That will hopefully mean more to anyone who might hear them than anything I'd ever choose to tuck in a box in the closet. That will hopefully inspire someone someday.
That will hopefully take off and start building love stories of their own. By my feeble example. By my faithful try. By my fledgling love.
For the love of love, I haven't forgotten what that feels like. Indeed, I have only begun to discover....
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