I met a man this week who told me he lost everything in a house fire. When he and his wife came back from shopping, all that they owned was gone, save for the car they were driving and the clothes on their backs. Twenty years later, they still search for something only to remember they no longer have it.
Starting over, he said, wasn’t easy. They still feel the pain of it. At the same time, he said, it was liberating.
My sister used to accuse me of never letting go: not of people nor of things. For every one thing you bring into your house, give one thing away, she would say. I couldn’t do it. Not until I sold my home in 2018. Then I let go of almost everything. Or so it seemed. A three-bedroom house down to a 10’x10’ storage space not entirely full as there was room to sit in a chair and read. Not that I ever did, but I liked the idea that I could.
Since then, I’ve been living in an 800 square foot flat with four rooms. A tiny house, essentially, with absolutely no storage space.
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.”C. Joybell C.
Sure, I noticed condensation on my windows but didn’t think about it. The moist heat feels good. Moist is, in part, at least, superficially, why I left the elevated desert in Idaho.
But then I pulled a pair of cowboy boots out of my closet and gasped: on the wooden heels there was mold. And on the next pair, and the next pair too. When I saw my oldest pair of boots, purchased in 1985 and resoled four times, I almost dropped them in repulsion. Mold was everywhere. These boots, I realized, would have to be tossed.
I need to let go.
Surprisingly, tossing these boots wasn’t a big deal. The others, I cleaned with vinegar and water and set them out to dry. And that was that. I gave it no more consideration.
Until, l a few days later, I discovered mold on the floor under my couch, which, for the record, I had just cleaned on Christmas Day.
There was more fuzzy mold on the box in the corner which held the audio and video recordings of the documentary I had worked on twenty years ago and never finished. Crap. Now what? Do I need to let go of these as well? These are more than boots, more than things, more than an uncompleted project. These are people’s lives. The records of women no longer living.
As if to answer this question, I look up. Above where the box was stored is a cloth banner that reads:
In the end what matters most is:
How well did you live
How well did you love
How well did you learn to let go.
This is not the end.
I’m still learning to let go.
Later, I discover mold on the canvas yoga mat carrier that was stuffed in a corner between a bookcase and the wall. And on a silk robe hanging too low to the ground. And on the back of a mirror leaning up against the wall. And on a box holding my sewing materials. And on my photo boxes. And that’s when I stopped looking. At least the photos inside are mostly okay, some only moist. I spent the next five hours sorting through photos and tossing a third, maybe half, of them.
This is when I began to feel the discomfort. What to keep and what to let go? If they had all been destroyed, well then, I’d live with that. But having the choice of what to keep and what to toss is difficult.
Choice is hard.
The tears finally come the next day when I consider my camera bag that stored my old Canon Rebel with an external flash, additional zoom lens, and extra filters. Now one of the zippers on the bag is so jammed up by moisture that it won’t budge. This camera served me well. It provided me with another career in Los Angeles shooting “b-roll” footage for PSAs, documentaries, and special events. I shot a LOT of great photos with that camera. I was holding that camera when I met Sir Elton John.
I call a friend. She says if it gives you joy, keep it. But it’s not that easy, I say. I hang up and tears pool in my eyes. I will likely never use this camera again. No one uses film cameras anymore, unless you’re an artist in that field. I will never have that kind of dedication to that art alone.
That was another life, another time, another career. And this, I think, is the source of my tears. As much as I love my current life and where I’m headed, it’s always hard to let go of the past. Even for me. Even after I’ve done it so many times.
And maybe that, too, is part of it. I have let go over and over and over again. While clearing out another damp box, I found a letter to volunteers and supporters of Community Response, the AIDS service organization I worked for early in my career, dated May 1994. It begins: “Give in. Let go. Have faith.”
How many signs do I need? Apparently, many.
How many more times must I do this?
Spirit responds: Until you do it easily, until you learn how to let go.
How much more do I need to strip away?
Everything that is no longer necessary, all this must go.
“The greatest step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go.”Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Human nature is to avoid discomfort, at least ifwe can and for as long as we can. Denial, right? More than a river in Egypt.
I’ve been staring at my DVDs in the fireplace nook ever since I first discovered mold. And I did nothing. I reasoned that, while it was against an outside wall, it wasn’t near a window. Oh sweet river, I held out as long as I could. This morning I finally looked. Sure enough, the moisture was thick.
I also have bookshelves against outside walls. I keep thinking that when I move from this place, I will let more of them go. But now? Do I have to now? Already there are too many times I reach for a book only to find it gone. I have let go of so many of my books. I know I will let go of more – but do I really have to do that now? Yes. At least, enough to fit my DVDs after I’ve culled my collection.
A guy from Mold Busters came today and measured for mold. We’ll have the results back next week. Meanwhile, I continued cleaning with a KN95 mask and vinegar water.
Everyone seems to agree that the 80-year-old windows are the problem. Fingers crossed that they will be replaced in the next few weeks.
So the question isn’t whether the mold will be remedied. Of course it will. The question isn’t if I can repackage these things in new, clean, dry boxes. Of course, I could do that as well. The question is… do I really need this stuff anymore?
I have an idea of what I want my new life to be. But nothing is a guarantee. What if I can’t do it? There is security in holding on to old things. But it’s a false security.
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”C. Joybell C.
I took a carload of things to Goodwill. Including the camera, a record player, my grandfather’s portable typewriter, and boots. A value of almost $1,000. I have three boxes of books to give away. One to the Unitarian church. The others? Probably out of laziness, to Goodwill.
But the audio and video recordings of women from the documentary I never finished? I still don’t know. It’s so hard to let go.
I am still learning.