I’ve been hauling it from place to place for nearly fifty years, dating back to when you could mail a first-class letter for six cents. Never had time to spend quality time with it before. It always sat in a corner or in the attic or was relegated to the basement, a labelled box, usually re-discovered whenever it came time to move to another house. Never considered throwing it out and always thought I’d get around to looking at what was inside someday.
I’ll turn 70 next month. Someday is now.
We are preparing for the next downsizing move, so we need to slough off some of the skins of our former lives that we’ve been carrying with us. It’s hard to let go of these things. They are part of us, even if we never use them for their intended use again. Like the vinyl LPs in original dust jackets. More than 100 of them. How do you say good-bye to yourself?
Old pictures, wedding invitations, mementos from the places I’ve worked, resumes and letters of recommendation, newspaper articles, my term papers from Brown, transcripts and diplomas, birthday and anniversary cards from my first wife of 36 years along with all the cards and photos from our wedding, condolence cards upon the deaths of my mother and father, programs for sports events, from a racetrack in Mexico City, to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta to the 1999 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship in Tampa, letters from old friends, some passed away, others passed from recent memory.
I know why I saved some of these things, yet others astonish me. Why? What was I thinking? What would have convinced me that this item met the high standard for preservation in my Happy Box?
I’m savoring every discovery, like the courses at a tasting menu at the table of a gourmet chef. So unexpected, the feelings and memories ferreted out and released. So warm and wonderful…I’m all aglow!
I share important finds with Sally. It helps her get to know who I was during the 41-year hiatus when we disappeared from each others’ lives. She’s heard me tell the stories, but now there is evidence she can hold in her hand, and imagine herself to be a fly on the wall in the rooms where it happened. It’s nice to be able to share myself with her at this deeper level of intimacy.
This is the moment my Happy Box was waiting for. It did a great job. I know I’ll look back at these few days fondly and cherish the moments when I was surrounded on my couch by all those I loved and who loved me throughout my life.
But my work is not done. I’m also performing a triage to determine which of these memories will move on with me.
It’s not just about reducing the volume of what we carry to our next home. It’s also about doing a favor for whoever will clean up after us when we die. We’ve both been the ones to do it for others, sifting through dusty attics and deciding what might be meaningful to pass on to relatives and what needs to be thrown out. So we’re taking the time now to do it ourselves so as not to burden the sister, niece or great-nephew who will draw this assignment.
And it’s about one more thing, too: creating the Happy Box that we and our caregivers will use to help us reminisce as we near the end of our journey to nowhere.