Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Releasing Attachments

My quest for a job and a fresh start in Colorado has taken me to a number of places so far, and I sense that by the time it has been completed, this journey will have become much more than just a physical relocation. My life has changed so much over the last few years and it’s about to change a whole lot more. I’ll be leaving behind family and friends as I venture into the unknown. Despite the optimism I embrace for this new adventure on which I’m about to embark, change and the unknown are still two very dark and frightening places. No matter how many times one moves, it never really gets any easier.

I’ve moved a total of twenty-eight times in my life. Three of those moves were orchestrated by my parents when I was a child. Most of the moves since then weren’t really initiated by me, but I went along with them for one reason or another. I’ve spent the last thirty-one years of my life in perpetual transition. The longest I ever lived in one place so far has been in Everett, WA. Those thirteen years were not only spent in the same city, but also in the same apartment – which, by the way, was ironically intended to be a temporary place until I decided where I really wanted to live. That was and still is a personal record.

Hidden somewhere in the depths of boxes in my storage unit, I probably have a few containers from all those moves that haven’t been opened for at least a decade. Among my cherished keepsakes surely lies a treasure trove of unnecessary junk – things I’ve accumulated over the years that either have little or no value to me now or that could never hope to have some inkling of a purpose again. No doubt more unessential items that should have been discarded a long time ago will reveal themselves to me before I’m finished.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an expert in the matter of moving and packing, even though I probably am better than most at fitting as many things into a box as possible, and (dare I boast) that all of the dishes and crystal I’ve ever packed have arrived perfectly intact. How many plates does one really need anyway? Having four complete sets of dinnerware, I could eat off of a different plate each day for a couple months. That's a lot of wrapping, cushioning, and packing. If only I could afford the food to serve on all those plates.

Why do I have all that stuff?

Hugh Jackman recently posted a quote on Facebook from one of the characters he played that really made me think about the answer to that question. In the movie, Australia, Drover explains to Lady Sarah Ashley (played by Nicole Kidman), why people like to own things… “you know, land, luggage, other people. Makes them feel secure, but all that can be taken away. In the end the only thing you really own is your story.”

So if owning things makes me feel secure, then the question becomes, “What is my story?”

If you took away all my stuff and left me with nothing but my story, what would that story be? Perhaps it’s that I’m just a person searching for a place where I can belong, a place where the people accept me for who I am and love me anyway. Maybe I need to just love others whether or not they accept me or return that love. Or maybe it’s that I’m meant to seek out others who need to hear my stories, who need inspiration or courage to move forward in their own lives. What if my only story is that I make people laugh. Is that enough?

Those plates certainly aren’t going to tell my story. Why then do I hold onto them? They have sentimental value because they’re family heirlooms, but do those plates tell my family’s story? Perhaps in some respect they do, but for the most part, they’re just objects. One day they will break and turn to dust, but my stories and those of my family will live on for as long as there’s someone alive to tell them – stories like the time we all sat around the fabulously set table waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey to be finished only to discover hours later that the oven was broken.

While I’m not quite ready to part with some of the family heirlooms, I have been letting go of many other things. So far, I’ve given away some clothes, my television and DVD player, my XBox, my car, and most of my furniture – yet I still feel like I have too much stuff. The more I gave away, the more I wanted to give away. I want to release myself from the burden of possessions as much as possible.

The most interesting challenge in packing for this move hasn't just been in deciding what to get rid of, but also in determining what to take for the first part of my journey. What do I really need and what can I put in storage for later? I felt like I was trying to fit my entire life into two carry-on bags. My attachment to different things was tugging at me, clouding my judgment, as all of my things tried to convince me to take them.

“Pack me! Pack me!” they all squealed in their high-pitched, inanimate voices.

“No, pack me! Me! Me!” the others countered, offering no valid reason why they should be chosen over the rest of my things. Greedily, I wanted them all, but had to ignore their fervent pleas.

“Quick, think! What do you use every day?” I asked myself, hoping to avoid hearing the imaginary disappointment of my books, assortment of rocks, and business supplies that I desperately wanted to cram into my suitcases. Finally, reality set in and I knew that I had to follow the old adage that less is more. “Pack only what you absolutely need and will be able to carry without giving yourself a hernia. And you certainly don’t want to cause a severe concussion when you try to hoist the bag into the overhead compartment by accidentally bouncing it off some poor unsuspecting passenger’s head.”

I was trying to pack what I wanted rather than what I needed. Once I made that distinction, my decisions became much easier to make: clothes to sleep in, something for interviews, a few changes of casual outfits, socks, underwear, and toiletries. My laptop, a good book, and my camera made it into the final cut as well. Everything else would have to wait until I found a job and got settled into a place of my own. There’s a part of me, however, that knows I’d be just fine if for some reason I lost everything else.

To truly have a fresh start, one must be willing to purge the material possessions he or she clings to so desperately. Those things don’t define us. They don’t even make life easier. If all I owned was what would fit into two small suitcases, it would have taken me only an hour to be ready to leave instead of weeks of making arrangements, sorting, tossing, donating, selling, etc. If I released it all today, would I experience a sense of freedom? Maybe. Or maybe I’d start hearing those squeaky voices again.

“You don’t want to get rid of me. Come back! Come back for me!”

“No, me! Me! Me!”

"Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!"

Oh, wait... That's a story for someone else's blog.

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