I was lying on my back on the floor, head hanging over the top of a hard yoga roll, the kind people use to relieve back tension. My neck was killing me because I’d been going nonstop for three weeks getting ready for this big garage sale we just had. I knew as soon as the sale was over, my neck would be suddenly better. I always seem to hold my stress in my neck, as though I’d really like for my conscious self to be separated from my body. That’s when this thought came sidling up to my conscious mind: If it weren’t for this whole sailing plan, I would be in real danger of getting old.
Not just any kind of ‘old’. We’re all going to get chronologically old. We can’t help it, living here on the planet as we do. No, I’m talking about the kind of ‘old’ where your best days are behind you; the kind of old where you have ‘stories’, most of which revolve around the glory days when the children were too young for the world to have damaged them yet. I am referring to the kind of ‘old’ that causes people under the age of 35 to have glazed over eyes as you begin with, ‘When I was your age….blah blah blah…walked five miles through snow drifts the size of Everest… blah blah blah…television…blah…rock and roll..blah blah’.
It occurred to me that if it were not for this plan to go sailing, I might grow old and die right here in this house, surrounded by all the stories of the detritus of a life well-lived in the past, but only marginally existing in the present. If it weren’t for this little cunning plan, I might drift aimlessly through to the future and out the door into the beyond. I shed exactly two small tears and as they hit the floor, I got up and went back outside where the rain was ruining what was left of our garage sale. How darkly poetic.
If you’ve been reading our blog for long, you know that I never planned to have a garage sale of any kind. My plan has been to have an estate agent come in and take care of things for me so I wouldn’t have to deal with things like going through baby clothes, toys, collectibles – all the THINGS that have created their own special gravitational pull over the course of a long and happy marriage and family life. While we were away for our month on Galapagos, that plan began to change gradually. I began to feel as though I could mentally, physically, and especially emotionally handle it, and, in fact, that part of me looked forward to it. Life has so much more room to breathe on the boat, so much space to be nourished and to grow robust in its fullness. August has been a month of flinging open closet and attic doors and ruthlessly clearing out things that I thought were special, but turned out to be average.
During our month of peace and quiet, boat swinging at anchor, bears on the shore, the better part of me began to emerge in about the third week; ready to engage in the process of letting go. These things simply cannot be rushed if one is to participate joyfully from a place of readiness. Sometimes it is earnestly hard to trust the internal process. We struggle to become something we are not long before the time of blossoming into our dream for ourselves. We watch what others do and say ‘why can’t I?’, and yet, we cannot. We listen to our own internal critic and say, ‘I must.’, and yet we don’t. Others cry, ‘Procrastination! Just do it! It’s so easy! You’ll be so glad!’, and yet, they are wrong because timing is everything.
I’ve said it before: all people deserve to have their own level of suffering and struggle before they can be ready to move on to something new. This is true in all things, in my experience, even while it is frustrating for both the observer and the observed. While others who have gone before us can encourage and cheer from the side, it is a rare thing that their experience changes ours. I have lived long enough to know this. And still it has been difficult to have patience with myself. It has also been fearful to think of what the future would hold if we did not take some kind of leap into it; it we did not hold tight to that rope swing and jump off the rock into the pool of the future. Either jump or keep standing still forever in that place. There is no going back. Poised on a precipice, it’s easy for fear to get the better of us.
I jumped. Now gone are the special hand made quilts, the 26 Beatrix Potter figurines, the toddler castle set, dolls, jewelry I never wear, a zillion tools we don’t need, and probably 50 frames and framed prints. Those flew out the door. Dumb bells, a skate board, and a knife in a sheath went home with a 10 year old boy and his dad. Gone is a cement leaf planter I made that would have sold for over 200$ in a garden store. I got 30$ for it, but it will be enjoyed by another gardener for a long time. I batted barely an eye at any of this.
And my sister, who came and worked all day at the sale, buoyed me up when I got a bit emotional seeing an old friend from those glory days of Andrew’s young boyhood. It was wonderful to see her, but I was dangerously close to feeling old in that moment, as was she. I’m afraid tears began sort of trickling down my face and I had to pull myself up short. She took home a special picture I had a deal of trouble parting with. It had hung in Claire’s bedroom her entire childhood and I still loved it. As a symbol of our family when we were young, it was perfect. But it cannot go on the boat, and it was sitting in the back of a closet. I feel good that Rosemary will have it to remind her of how much fun we had back in those days, having tea and watching our kids play ‘restaurant’ together. Life is even more precious when our stories are shared by others.
We’ve been in this planning mode for several years now, dreaming and making small moves toward the day we get to cut the dock lines and go adventuring. We sold Moonrise, bought Galapagos, and all of that was easy compared to dealing with a family home. But, onward we go. We are making the leap into the unknown and trusting that we land on our feet. This is the year of having faith that things will work out, if not as we expect, then at least well enough for us to continue. By the skin our our teeth we might just avoid becoming the kind of old that shouts ‘our best days are behind us’.