November 29, 2018

You can’t Take it With You: What I Learned from Peering into a Tiny Closet.

This past weekend, I visited my 89-year-old grandmother who recently transitioned into a skilled nursing facility.

The institution was clean and orderly. The staff seemed warm, pleasant, and professional. Grandma’s move is permanent. In preparation to sell the property where she had lived alone for the past 15 years, my relatives have begun liquidating its contents.

Later this week, I will visit our matriarch’s home to determine what, if anything, I wish to inherit. Because virtually every memory of my grandmother consists of baking and preparing meals together, there is but one single object I feel compelled to take from her possessions—a worn, stainless steel measuring cup which she has owned for well over 60 years.

Whilst visiting Grandma and at her urging, I peeked into her personal closet inside the room she shares with her suitemate. My grandmother now owns merely the contents of a 30 inch wide closet. That’s it. 89 trips around the sun and one winds up with roughly 31 cubic feet of personal space—essentially the same dimensions as a casket.

Talk about a wake-up call.

Peering into that tiny closet prompted me to recall how I had metaphorically begun to purge my own “closet” six years earlier when, during my divorce, several of my friendships unraveled.

In my fragile, newly uncoupled state, I simply did not possess the fortitude to nurture relationships that had proven to be emotionally and energetically draining for quite some time. Making the choice to let go of such connections improved my quality of life significantly, leaving me feeling lighter and unencumbered.

My purge carried into the physical realm a few years later, when I was moved to unload the vast majority of my personal belongings collected over 20 odd years and relocate to an apartment a mere fraction of the size of my former home. No longer feeling the need to hold onto “things,” I embraced a simpler life replete with profound, memorable experiences instead. I have never looked back.

In their song entitled, The End, the Beatles immortalized the phrase, “and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

During our time together, I could see very clearly that my grandmother has truly accepted releasing all of her “stuff.” She has cultivated a lifetime of memories and connections, which could never be contained inside her tiny closet. Grandma can rest easy knowing that her loved ones will treasure the bulk of her earthly possessions in large part because of the memories associated with them.

I have let go of so much over the past several years. And while I am not yet prepared to reduce my life to the contents of a single 31 cubic foot box, I am far more amenable to the idea now. I emerged from an institutional setting devoid of any real personality, fully awake and alive. I am committed to embracing what matters most, which is channeling my finite time and energy into creating meaningful, lasting relationships with people, not things.

The purpose of our limited time here is to connect and inspire, leaving a legacy so that who we are cannot soon be forgotten. My life experience has shown me time and again that we cannot take hold of what serves us best when our hands are busy clutching what we do not need.

I will always treasure Grandma’s antique measuring cup, but one day when she is gone from me, it won’t be that worn piece of tin that I value most. It is and always will be the memories we’ve made spanning close to 50 years. The stories she told me that I still remember. The way her words and actions continue to influence my choices when no one even notices. The feeling I get when I look into her crystal blue eyes—eyes which have always held tremendous pride and unconditional love for me.

I will treasure the memories of making mischief with my cousins and siblings during sleepovers at Grandma’s house. The thoughts and feelings associated with the memories we make are precisely what get us through those rough patches, becoming the priceless intangibles we stockpile which can never be snatched from us, no matter our circumstances, no matter how tiny our closet.


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