“Aren’t you sad to be leaving it?” I asked my friend S. We’d been talking about house remodeling – I’m on the cusp of one and she completed a heroic (aren’t they all?) remodel just a year ago. She went for months without a kitchen, living off of a hotplate in the living room and washing dishes in their single bathroom. Now, with a beautiful open space – windows all around – pale blonde wooden floors – she and her family are leaving to move abroad.
“Not at all,” she said without a hitch. “I made it more beautiful. The people who live there now [renters] love it. And I’ll move somewhere else and make that beautiful, too.”
It’s rare to witness such non-attachment, but S. has been a particular teacher to me on this front in her own quirky, quiet way.
A few days later, I was at an estate sale of a friend who died last winter. Her husband is now in a care center out west. It’s hard to see two people you’ve know for decades grow frail and lose the ability to do the things they loved — hike, paint, bike, and also live in a home they’d nourished for five decades. And yet it is inevitable.
Some neighbors had a very hard time watching strangers look through the couple’s belongings, carting off furniture, taking away stacks of books and boxes of glassware. This seemed fine with me – the natural flow of belongings. Lovingly chosen and cared for, these items will enrich others’ lives. Like my friend S. suggested, once created, beauty is meant to be shared. I took just one object – my friend’s Gourmet cookbook, which is filled with handwritten notes and pressed, dried herbs and flowers. It has a bit of her essence in it.
The one place in the house that stopped me and made me stare and then cry is the wall in my friend’s studio where she’d created a collage over many years. It is a record of how she saw the world – what inspired and moved her – photos of family, a magazine clipping about Chagall, a label, a party invitation. Like the house, it is a collection of ephemera, placed together by one person just so. Unlike much of what is in the house, though, the pieces mean very little on their own; most will likely find a home in a dustbin.
As of today, it is still there, waiting for her kids to untack it, piece by piece. Taking it down will be like the moment when the monks sweep away the mandala – this too shall pass, this too will end, this too will take a new form and find a new home. Every home begets another.