Life Standing in Death

I read an article the other day about döstädning. It means death cleaning. But a literal translation from Swedish through Norwegian to English in my head is: standing in death.

And this is exactly what I feel a need to do this week.

For a couple of months now E. has been toying with the idea of moving. He doesn’t really want to, and probably doesn’t understand what a teasing his daydreaming is for me. He’s just been frustrated with the (previously) leaky roof and the shorted-out shower cabinet. (Who on earth wants disco lights in the shower to begin with?) I, however, am overdue for a move.

It’s my nature, or habit — which is the same thing I guess — to pick up and move every year or so. Sometimes 2 or 3 times in a single year. Not being entirely sure of how many moves I had been through before the age of 6 — I can count at least 53 to this point. I am itching to move again. I am 54, after all.

But the fact is, I really do like this place. The location is convenient for the train and for the trail, and this house is probably the nicest I’ve ever lived in. Three years ago I paid a student and his gym buddies to move a free piano from a dining room across town to our dining room. The piano is as far as I’ve come for my retirement plan, I’ll learn to play it when I hit 70. E. and I have talked about how we can convert the atelier to a bedroom and live on the first floor when we are too stiff to climb the stairs in the mornings. When we hit 85 or 90 — if we are lucky.

We built a new entrance hall last fall and closed off the third floor — already set to rent out the upstairs apartment when E.’s daughter moves out. This house is full of potential. The problem is that it’s also cluttered with abandoned ambitions.

Yesterday I found a cardboard box with six bottles of essential oils, almond oil, and a fancy glass perfume bottle. I never found a blend I liked. And, well, to be honest oils don’t really work as a replacement for perfume. In my experience, the scent of essential oils lasts about a half-hour unless I’ve dropped it into a burner in my little library.

Christmas Tea and Cinnamon Oil

My closet is full of blouses I never wear, shoes I can’t walk in, and coats with missing buttons and torn pockets. Stacked on the bookshelves, I’ve got empty ring binders — I’ve forgotten why I bought them. Novels I haven’t read. Schedules I haven’t kept. Charts with career plans that I do not even remember making. It is difficult to believe that this is only 5-years-worth of clutter.

When you move, you take a good look at everything you once started. You evaluate, and you choose what to let go of. It’s this deep-cleaning that comes with moving that I really want. It’s the fresh start. The moving on.

It hurts to be reminded of flashes of joy/optimism/vitality that became catalysts for self-recriminations. Everything changes. Grieving for what was, and for the hopes that were attached to what was is natural. We do it when a loved one dies: we compassionately sort through what is left in the wake of their life. We relish some things, forgive others.

A move is like confronting your own death. You relish, you grieve, you forgive yourself for whims that you let become unmet obligations.

One of the Buddhist teachers I listen to suggests that if you are approaching Buddha’s teachings as philosophy and not as a religion, the idea of rebirth can be a metaphor for every day of your life.

My greatest fear with regard to not moving from this house is that I will not continue to explore. That I will settle. That being content, which I long for, will come to be synonymous with complacent.

But it is all metaphor, isn’t it? My packing cardboard boxes again and dragging them into another house, making another house into a home could just be an illusion of moving on. It’s the thought that counts. It’s the moment of a rebirth, which will always begin in accepting a kind of death.

Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking.
ANTONIO MACHADO

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