It was a week of clearing, sorting, giving away, holding on, letting go, revisiting the past, and imagining the future. It was as if time had stopped. I stepped out of my current life and into a liminal world where everything was in flux. While it was not always an easy week, it was an important one – a necessary one – a final goodbye to the last remaining vestiges of a childhood home.
Several weeks ago, my mother left her home to move into an assisted living facility. It was the last home she had shared with my father before he died in 2010. Because of my father’s work as a minister and then as a church administrator on the national level, my parents had lived in many different places since I left home 44 years ago.
Though the cities and houses were not “home” to me, when I visited my parents, I was still surrounded by familiar and beautiful things from generations past. I could sit in my great-grandfather’s rocking chair, be served dinner on my grandmother’s wedding china, notice light glistening on intricate cut glass crystal that had been in our family for generations, and hear the ticking of the clock that my great-grandparents set up house keeping with. The stories of our heritage were all around us. At the same time, there were always new treasures to discover – small yet beautiful things that my parents had acquired in their travels.
Some of those things stay with my mother now in her small, two-room apartment – just the perfect space for her now. Yet the physical presence of the “family home” is now a memory. Last week, I wrote about letting go to a new potential unfolding. This week, I’m practicing both letting go of the many artifacts of my childhood and letting go to the many blessings and gifts that continue to unfold in my life and work.
During one afternoon of sorting and clearing, I sat on the floor surrounded by photo albums covering more than six generations of our family history. My parents were both great at documenting family events and history, and my father was an avid photographer. I took a break for a couple of hours to look through the albums page by page. It was during that afternoon that I received perhaps the greatest gift of this whole process.
As I looked through the pictures, I remembered many of the events that were chronicled. Yet I also remembered things that were going on in people’s lives at the time of those events. The photographs captured particular moments, yet hidden in the background of those moments, life stories were unfolding. Some were wonderful and joyous, others were painful and challenging. Seeing all of the photos and remembering all of the stories, I was reminded that whatever happens to us as we go through life is just what is happening to us in that moment.
The “moment” might last for a day or a week, or it might be a chapter in our lives. Yet what struck me so profoundly is that nothing about our lives and circumstances is permanent. I remembered some big struggles in the lives of the people in these photographs, including my own, yet somehow, over time, they moved on. They found their way.
Of course, there were more struggles for some than for others. And there were a few people over the generations who lost their way and never recovered. Yet mostly I was reminded of the incredible resilience of the human spirit and of the power of choice. The people who went on to thrive and create fulfilling lives chose to define their lives on their own terms.
In particular, they chose not to let difficult experiences or circumstances define who they were or the life they would lead. They accepted what had happened, worked through it, made their peace with it, and moved on.
We all face challenges and struggles from time to time. We may even experience devastating losses. When those challenges arise or loss comes, we need time and space for healing and finding our way forward. Yet if we are willing to “be with what is” – not run away from it, but rather walk through it with intention, care, and compassion – we find ourselves again. We touch the resilience deep within, and a next step shows itself.
In my afternoon with the family photo albums, I was reminded once again that who we are in the totality of our being is much bigger than anything that can happen to us. We may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can choose how we will respond to those circumstances.
It was a hard week, yet a good week. It was a chance to say a proper goodbye to a big part of my life that will now live only in my memory. And it gives me renewed perspective on the life I am blessed to live now – the many people around the world who have become my extended “family,” and my own home and relationship that continues to nurture and evolve.
Be conscious of the good times in life and savor them. Walk with attention and care through the challenging times. Be fully present with “what is” in the moment, and remember that whatever is happening is just what is happening now. It need not define who you are or the life you choose to live. Make conscious and life-affirming choices. And you will find your way.
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