I just spent five days hosting a very dear friend of mine. We spent many hours catching up on my favorite TV show, “Downton Abbey,” on PBS. My friend had never seen it and so we watched until we were caught up with the current Season. It was so nice to sit and watch, sipping tea, listening to the falling rain, and chatting together. It was raining when she arrived, and fogged in on her last day with us. Today we spent going through shops on a city-sponsored “Chocolate Walk.” Each shop in town was offering a piece of chocolate to everyone who came into their shop. You were to check off each shop as you went to them, and then at the last shop, fill out a coupon for a door prize. We bought a couple of ornaments at this wonderful Christmas store, had a great lunch, and enjoyed the company of close friends. Then, off she went on a plane back to her family. I cried as we drove away.
This trip was wonderful for me because my friend and I have known one another more than 20 years and she has helped me pack and unpack more times than we wanted to count. And she helped me prepare to move, yet again, on this visit. She reminded me each time I would pause over an item, “Is it a memory?” Some things have particular times or places attached to them, and it makes it difficult to cast them aside. My grandmother’s tea cups! For our move up here, I got rid of so many tea cups and saucers, but some I will never give up and will be inherited by my grandchildren. When I look at all these beautiful things I have inherited from my family, I have to remember that even though I might be able to answer, “Yes” to the question of memory, it is still an object. I can still cast it aside for a future life in another place.
The quote by St. Nikon of Optina is a pretty awesome quote when you are faced with another relocation! “A place cannot save you, because there is no place where you can flee from yourself.” And I know that wherever I live, I am still me. No matter the condition or the company I keep, I am still me. And I must answer to my God one day. You will not answer for me; my children are not responsible for me; my husband is not responsible for the state of my soul – I am.
I was born of British parents and my birth is registered at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, CA. My mom still tells me stories of my birth and her week-long hospital stay. I lived for 53 years in a warm, southern climate. We relocated here to the Pacific Northwest almost three years ago now, and it was a climatic shock, for sure! But I have come to love this weather and the seasons’ changes. I adore spring and I think have come to regard fall or autumn as my favorite time of year. In California, all the seasons seemed the same; some times of the year were wetter, some were hotter, but the days all ran together. Some Christmases were blistering hot and spent getting a tan, but those Christmases were just as special as the snowy white ones we have enjoyed since moving up here, because I was surrounded by family and friends…and I was there; the same me.
We are facing a new journey, but St. Nikon reminds me that place really does not matter. Place is just a situation…what you bring to a situation is yourself. The things that will be accompanying me will be much less than I have ever had. Thirty years of marriage and you acquire more things than you realize. We are purging on a deep level these days and as my friend helped me go through Christmas ornaments, I spent moments here and there tearing up over some of them. My oldest son said to me, “Mom, I know that garland you used on the tree when I was 5 is really special to you. But I don’t remember it and I really don’t care about it; throw it away.” I thought of that as I purged my way through Christmas memorabilia and I had my friend asking me, “Is that a memory or just a string of lights?” And through all the crates and boxes, I was able to realize that it is not the stuff we acquire; it is more than that.
Sometimes items become our last link to a loved one. For me, I am the keeper of the “things” from both my mom’s side and my dad’s side of the family. My parents are only children, and so all their parents’ things also came to me. I have winnowed things down a bit, but for my own future I have to divest of even more items. And it is hard. When I see something and remember my great-grandmother touching it or using it, it tugs at my heart strings. But I also realized, through some chats with my friend this week, that if something should happen to me, it would just be a bunch of “stuff” my family would have to sort through, and none of them would know whose it had been or what the significance of me keeping it would have been. Again, it is just “stuff.” But still, I weep when I use a tea cup of my grandmother’s, or touch a hand-tatted infant bib my great-grandmother had made by hand. The photos that date back to the 1800s in England or New Zealand are precious to me. I keep going in circles of wanting to keep it all and then wanting to walk away and take just the clothes on my back….and then I see a photo of an eagle flying free; the snow-capped mountains…and I realize that I will not allow my things to keep me from relocating once again, to be where I think God is leading me.
The quite stillness of a mountain capped in snow; the gently trickling of melting snow creating a stream coming down from those snowy mountains – the land I am drawn to is nothing like the land my parents left, nor the land they came to love, but I know God is pulling me there and I am thrilled, my heart is singing, and I know I need to stop the tears over “stuff,” judiciously choose what to take and what to leave, and prepare to once again go to a new place. No matter where I reside, I cannot flee from myself.