Letting go to move forward
Somewhere around early October, we discovered standing water in the basement. Not a lot; just enough leakage from the furnace to evenly saturate the cardboard bottoms of the boxes stacked up neatly under the stairs. And of course, what should be in those boxes but particularly special, particularly absorbent things. Like critical paperwork. And some favorite childhood memorabilia. You know, just your basic irreplaceable stuff.
I pulled everything out. Turned out most of the damage was external; the cardboard of the file boxes was thick enough that the contents were mainly damp, maybe water-stained in places, but not destroyed. And wonder of wonders, I’d laid down bubble wrap as the first layer in my memorabilia box, so all my old stuffed animals and doll clothes and carefully bundled love letters were a little humid, but otherwise okay.
Crisis dodged by a slim fluke, I surveyed the box guts, scattered across the basement furniture to dry. The mildly mildewed boxes themselves (wow, even reading that in my head was a tongue twister) were destined for the dumpster, but as for the innards– I probably needed to go through all that stuff before repacking. Especially since we’re moving at some point in the next year.
Childhood keepsakes, I’d lovingly tuck away safe and snug again, of course. But those files– each piece of warped, stiffened paper I picked up seemed less relevant than the last. Bank statements and boxes of checks (and carbon copies of written checks) from now-closed bank accounts. Tax records way past 7 years old. Paycheck stubs and receipts for Union dues from a career that feels like a lifetime ago. Instruction manuals from various gadgets that are long since donated, missing, or broken. Lease agreements for places I no longer live.
So I broke out my shredder, and revisited glimpses of the last 10 years with every whirring churn. Some good stuff that brought smiles– like the receipt for our honeymoon cabin at Forest Houses Resort, a magical little place we stumbled on completely by accident. But a lot of unpleasant stuff I’d blocked out, like hardcopies of vicious emails for Dan’s court battles. And some neutral stuff, just factual records of the sometimes brutal ups and downs we lived through in Las Vegas, like our initial mortgage paperwork– then, not 5 years later, a bill of sale for the same house, sold off for less than half what we originally paid.
And as I turned all that good, bad, and ugly into satisfying shreds of future post-consumer paper products, I realized– or maybe remembered– that moving forward is at least as much about letting go as it is about looking ahead.
Anyone who’s moved from one place to another knows this: the first stage in moving isn’t packing; it’s getting rid of crap. When faced with a choice between investing the time and energy (and truck space) to shove something or other in a box vs. jettisoning said something or other, donation bags and garbage bags multiply exponentially.
And I have moved a lot. So you’d think I would know this already. But remembering the importance of letting go first– before moving forward– is good, especially in this, my year of movement.
As I worked my way through all of those papers– enough to burn out one shredder, and buy a second– I thought about how life whistles along merrily whether you’re standing still or not. And “standing still” is a false premise, too; even when it seems like you’re stuck in one place, you really aren’t. You’re carried along in the current either way, and at some point you’ll look up and notice you’re somewhere entirely new– whether you wanted to step out or stay put or get the hell outta Dodge.
Even the worst memories triggered by now-powerless paperwork felt ancient and dim compared to the present, although when I was slogging through those darkest days I thought we’d never see sunlight again, never breathe clean air again.
But here we are. Living a mile above the rest of the world.
After my littlest niece was born, my sister treated herself to a post-partum massage and I brought the baby along to show off. The therapist peeked at her sleeping little face, and said, “Born in the Year of the Dragon. Humans have hands and feet, so they can crawl and walk and run. But dragons have hands and feet and wings; they can crawl and walk and run and fly. This one will always be moving. ”
I’ve been accused of being both a fairy and a hummingbird at various times in my life, so I’m an honorary winged critter myself. Before this year, I’d gotten too used to feeling caged. Forgot the feel of updrafts under my wings. Forgot that I used to be happiest when life was cheerfully hectic, moving in all directions. It’s easy to forget that momentum can urge you forward to gorgeous new expanses when you’re used to crashing into rocky shoals instead.
This year helped me remember that.
I thought choosing “movement” as my word of 2015 would be about new opportunities, changing directions, fresh energy. And it was, absolutely. But movement doesn’t exist in a vacuum; forward motion is at least as much about letting go of the old as it is about chasing down the new. Letting go of what doesn’t serve you. Letting go of whatever’s dragging you back or down or sideways or otherwise keeping you from your course.
Letting go to move forward. Cut the anchors. Ditch the deadweight overboard.
Then, aimed true, we can sail on.