Flying Lessons: Commentary from the Garage

LessI have made over $1500 selling stuff on Craigslist and selling books.

I sat in my garage and cried yesterday.

My social media is filled with images of graduations, weddings, and reunions being celebrated. With a vengeance. It’s my 30th high school reunion in a few weeks, and – surprise, surprise – many of those people have kids graduating from high school right now, and – surprise, surprise, surprise – those couples are celebrating 25th wedding anniversaries.

I’m crying in the garage.

I find myself purging evidence of two marriages, twenty-two years of teaching, nine houses, eight schools, and two states, a Baltic republic, and a Soviet regime.

I confess several things: 1) I had way too much crap; 2) I can now finish the basement of my condo; 3) I probably still have too much crap; 4) Son #2 has to help me evaluate my wardrobe before he leaves for Russia; 5) If you shop Goodwill, hit up the Cedar Rapids store for gently used ladies’ clothing next month; 6) Half-Price Books has some great volumes of classic literature and slightly used beach reads from the past two decades, courtesy of yours truly.

The things (translate: crap) are not the sum of life experiences or knowledge.

It’s not that I’m sad to be getting rid of things. I don’t regret the stops and starts that these things represent. I’m not sad that son #1 lives on his own. I’m not sad that son #2 is traveling and studying. I’m not sad that son #3 still has six years at home. I’m definitely happy that I’ve lived in different places among various people. I’m glad I was married; I’m even more glad that I’m not married now.

I’m still crying in the garage.

I am cleaning my slate. Getting rid of this stuff is the most cathartic undertaking in my life. In facing my past, I do not rail against it or moan and weep at love lost or dreams shattered. By getting rid of the I-might-read-that-some-day books, I lose the weight of a thousand expectations. In picking a few momentos to keep, the dusting lessens (as does any chance of being featured on a future episode of “Hoarders: Buried Alive”). With each box that goes out, I welcome in more light and air.

But this clean slate asks for new plans, innovative ideas, individualized lists. In short, I am challenging myself to truly adopt a new way of being.

A few months ago, I looked at houses because having a family means living in a house with a crippling mortgage and yard work every weekend, right? At least that what I felt obligated to – like my obligation to store way too many things that neither bring me joy nor are beautiful. I felt old looking at these houses. Weighed down. I looked at my boxes. Resigned. Embattled is not the feeling one wants when purchasing a home.

When I considered buying a condo and getting rid of stuff, I felt younger and lighter. The question is: can I get rid of my stuff without losing myself? The answer has to be yes. Because if anyone knows anything about reinvention, it is those of us who majored in Russian at the end of the Cold War. We definitely had to think on our feet – what were we going to do with our degrees?

I don’t believe my cleaning out is as spiritual as some minimalists would have me believe, but it is freeing. My son and I filled our little car and made the rounds at Goodwill and Half-Price Books again yesterday. I’m feeling lighter. I might be considering celebrating.

The universe has given me many chapters thus far, and I am grateful. I’m going to store the chapters in my heart rather than the basement.

Springtime celebrations are all about flight; happy endings; new beginnings; joyous festivities around milestones. I hope your spring celebrations fill with the gorgeous smiles of loved ones and happy memories.

I’m done crying in the garage.

Mary Oliver writes, “I think, just for the joy of it, I’ll fly.”

I think I will, too.


 birds flying






“We are all something, but none of us are everything.” (Blaise Pascal)

Lydia isn’t exactly depressed, well, not clinically. Not the kind of depression where you have to take pills every morning just to get out of bed. Not yet. Not really. Lydia does get out of bed; she puts cereal and milk out for Henry and Lisa. They eat without complaint while Lydia has a Diet Coke. John leaves for work early – before the kids are up. He usually says goodbye before he takes the train into the city. He comes home late; if Lydia thought about it, she would realize that he is having an affair with his assistant. She does not think about it. After she takes the kids to school, Lydia often drives through Starbucks and gets herself a treat: venti caramel macchiato. She reasons that it’s good have something all to herself; this way, she gets the quiet, sugary drive home. Lydia’s day stretches before her like a chasm. She often has no idea what to do or how to spend her time. However, she will usually run a load of laundry and the vacuum before picking up the kids. For dinner, she will order take-out Chinese or a pizza from Bobbie’s. No point in really cooking if John’s not home. The kids eat and do their homework, accompanied by the drone of Disney Channel as Lydia drinks her dinner. They all go to bed around the same time. Tomorrow is another day.

Halwa rises in the dark each morning before anyone else in her village  – every day she is surprised to see neighbors still alive. Last month the armies destroyed nearby villages. People – human beings – disappeared. Her three children move their mats to the daytime hiding place as she leaves to make her way to the Oxfam camp. There, once the sun is up, she will stand in line to get a ration of corn, sugar, and oil. Often, Halwa will stay for help filtering water, or to wait for other supplies that may never show up. Halwa’s husband, Tabarak, has not been seen since the fighting near the villages two years ago; a battle that still rages. At that time, Halwa had just delivered her youngest child. After Tabarak disappeared, Halwa continued living. It is not a question. She forbids herself to think of her eldest son, Pir. He disappeared shortly after Tabarak. A single tear glistens if Halwa happens to think of her younger sisters. They tried to attend school, but they, too, were swallowed up. Perhaps they are still living. Perhaps it is better if they are not. Many years ago Halwa’s mother told her, “It is senseless to meditate on sadness.” Halwa does not. She gets the rations; she hides her children. Halwa thinks on life and lives for today.