Simplifying: not always so simple

Last night, at the end of a long day, I went downstairs to confront the sorting of piles once again. In the traditional Christian story of the Creation, God separated the light from the dark to create day and night. In my current story, I separate pictures from the letters from the notebooks from the concert stubs, from the family history records to create piles upon piles.

I grabbed another notebook of dad’s to look through and decide if there was anything in there I wanted to keep. The one I grabbed was not his usual ranting, sad poetry, or angry letters to be sent later. This one was nearly full of letters he wrote to women in response to classified ads they placed in magazines like The Enquirer. I don’t know if magazines still have these kinds of ads – perhaps it is the early equivalent to Ashley Madison or other dating sites. Anyway, this notebook was plum full of letters my dad wrote. “Dear Ms, I am a divorced, 5’9, 190 lb man living in Minnesota,” (he was none of those things…except living in Minnesota) each of these letters would begin – and then he went on to share his version of woo-ing the intended recipient. Some of it was sharing his dreams of moving south, some of it was piling flattery on some details she may have shared in her description, “you love to cook? That is perfect, because I love to eat!” In some of his letters, he spoke about how his “ex” wife didn’t understand him, didn’t meet his needs, didn’t live up to her “wifely duties.” He ended each letter with expressing how he couldn’t wait to meet and giving our home address and phone number.

These letters were mostly dated around the year I was 16. He would have been 52. ‘

I can’t say the letters upset me all that much. It’s not like I have any illusions he was a perfect man or that his marriage with my mom was without difficulty. I’ve been married long enough to know that sometimes things can happen that drive you bat-crap crazy. Maybe mom and dad had been fighting and one of the ways that he got through it was imagining a different life for a while. I don’t know if he ever sent one of those letters but I do know he never met one of these women. He was a hermit – he never left the house. In fact, he could barely walk down the driveway so he most likely would have had to ask mom to mail those letters.

No, I think these letters were a gasp at life and freedom and excitement for my dad whose real life had already become so severely limited by physical and mental ailments that he was desperate. “Is this all there is? Is that great opportunity never coming to find me up here on this hill where I hide? I’m scared shitless of this gray hair, these wrinkles, this expanding midsection, this unending sickness of spirit and body.”

Was this my dad’s version of a mid-life crisis? Writing letters to imaginary women in the far-off warmer climates where he always wanted to live? Dreaming of himself as taller, thinner, free-er, healthier, just different than he was?

No, these letters don’t upset me. What upsets me is knowing he felt trapped by circumstances – ones that were both within his control and beyond his control. He had all sorts of longings – like all of us do – but he felt powerless to change. He was so infinitely afraid…and unfaced fear eventually turns to anger.

The anger was what we got to see. He may have had all sorts of complex emotions roiling underneath, but what we saw and how we remember him is by the anger.

I tossed the notebook in the garbage.

 

 

Rejoicing in Repurposing

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts how a significant portion of the items I have been releasing into the care of others have been china, dishes, glassware, serving dishes, and vases that I never used. I have two china cabinets – one was my mother’s and the other was a far more beautiful china cabinet that a family was giving away in Texas and they brought it over to us. I like both cabinets for different reasons: My mother’s sat in our living room my whole life while I was growing up and just looking at it brings back memories. Also, if you walk by it quickly, the glass doors make a noise that sounds like 1974 to me.

The other cabinet is a dark wood that looks nice with our other furniture. Plus, the bottom cupboard holds art supplies and some puzzles.

It’s never been the cabinets I wanted to release – just most of the stuff inside. I’m very happy with what I’ve done now. The bit of china that is left has been moved to the dark wood cabinet, and my mom’s cabinet has become the perfect storage place for my office books. Yesterday, Owen and I moved it into my sunroom, unloaded the ugly little bookshelves I had in there (which he was pleased to take for his game room/office) and filled the cabinet with books. The storage area underneath is perfect for old journals and some of the pictures I still need to scan.

So now it feels like mine. Having two cabinets full of tchotchkes was silly and didn’t make sense for this life in which I never use all those fancy dishes –  but using one of those cabinets for the books I use all the time – now that is fine and works for my life.

That’s the point, isn’t it? Not getting rid of everything – but getting rid of what is extra and unneeded, getting rid of the countless things that I might need for “someday,” creating space for what matters.

Words are Heavy

Without a doubt, the most difficult task in my de-cluttering is the boxes of papers, pictures, and letters. Seriously, there are about five large, heavy tubs at least.

Eventually, I want to scan many of the pictures, so they are staying for now – but I’m sifting through the papers and seeing what I still want to keep. I used to write a lot of sad poetry – that’s going. Much of the stuff the kids made when they were teeny tiny is also going – I’ll just keep a few select, favorite creations. I have thrown out a few pictures of people or places that I don’t recognize. Today alone, I filled one garbage bag full with this kind of paper/picture/letter stuff.

It gets tricky when it comes to my mom and dad’s papers and pictures. Dad was really into genealogy and I’ve told myself I might want to read all his findings “someday” – but that means holding on to copious amounts of paperwork in the meantime. Also, all his writings that were never published (and which I can barely read because his handwriting was so terrible) – I can’t quite part with it yet. Especially because from what I’ve read, it seems like many of his spiritual struggles were similar to mine and I feel like if I really take time to read it, I might come to understand him in a way I haven’t before. I would like that. Perhaps I will post some of his writing here – and then I guess technically it WILL be published. That would be a dream come true for my dad.

I think I’ll start right now.  Hold on – I’m going downstairs to get one of his notebooks…

I’m back. I grabbed a notebook from 1969 – he would have been 36 years old. This was the year before I was born. By this time, he had been on disability leave from parish ministry for a while – maybe 5 years. He left full-time ministry because of his various health issues after only three years in the parish.

“Purpose

The air can be stifling. So hot and miserable that it chokes. There’s an absence of that “peace that passes all understanding.”  We may reach for our old escape hatches. We find they are gone.

I felt so alone that I feared each moment. A meaningless moment is hell. To wander aimlessly without purpose is hell. There must be a purpose and a goal.

There’s nothing so stifling as the loss of peace. I lost that peace. I was serving at Tea, South Dakota (as a pastor). The nest became rougher and rougher. Finally, I was forced from the nest. I couldn’t fly – I hid in apartments. I hid from all the world.

But peace escaped me. Again and again, I tried to fly – I couldn’t. Then things became worse. I fell into deep depression. The darkness of night was frightening. I feared life and I feared death. 

How can I explain the inner torture? How can someone understand the inner hell I knew?”

He never spoke about any of this to us. He wrote down his heart. I do that, too.

These last days as I’ve been worrying about health issues, I’ve been pondering that passage from Philippians about “peace that passes all understanding.” I hope my dad eventually found that peace at some point during his earthly life. If he did, I hope he wrote about it so I can find out someday – somewhere in those piles and piles of paper in my basement.