Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Sum of Our Possessions

This is almost everything we own in Ecuador, including food.

It is notable both for how little it is and how much it is.

We came here with six suitcases and backpacks. That original volume represents about half what you see above. (What you don't see above are an oven and a 10-gallon gas tank we had to buy while at this house, but that we are selling to the owners of the house.)

One of the early feelings from this trip was the liberating feeling of walking away from all our stuff. Did you ever have a breakup that was long overdue but that was "friendly"? During the conversation in his/her house/apartment that seems to take hours (and probably does), solemnity covers you like warm mud. There are long moments of silence, hugging and tears, dragging out for hours the actual break that really happened in the first 20 minutes of "the talk."

Then you finally do that last, too-long hug with no kiss at the front door, turn on your heels and hear the door shut. Presuming the door doesn't open again with a bursting sob (in which case you're back in the game for another two hours), it's that moment right there where you feel…the entire rest of your life beginning! You've heard the platitude before, but never have you truly realized that this moment is the first moment of the rest of your life. The entirety of your world is everything attached to your shoes and no more. You are limited only by your own capacity to be bold, creative, adventuresome. And so you call your buddy for a drink and a ball game or to go shopping.

That feeling when the door shut, with all our stuff on the other side of it (crammed in one side of our attic, causing our house to settle to one side) was the first feeling of our entire journey, the champagne bottle breaking on the hull.

I'm sure it would have been different had we not known that we would return to our stuff eventually. But the thought at least of living independently of everything but ourselves was liberating, exhilarating, and anxious in the way anything a little terrifying is.

Because, you see, stripping away your material world has some unexpected revelations and effects. You realize how much your mental landscape is shaped by your physical one. Your comfy chair. Your favorite coffee/tea cup. Your fuzzy slippers. Your sunny corner of the house. The junk drawer in the kitchen (where twist ties and maybe-not-dead batteries go). You are left alone with no excuse to fix something, or read that important article in that magazine, or rearrange, or buy something else, or clean out the junk drawer.

So the unexpected revelation may be that "what is really important" may have atrophied after all those years of "stuff" crutches. So just like real crutches, you should be ready for that wobbly period where your life legs have to get used to their job again. And be sure you've planned out some appropriate things for them to do to heal. Maybe not skiing the bumps just yet, but make sure you get them ready to do that.

Notice in that picture of our stuff again that, though to our Western eyes it may look like very little, it's volume has doubled in six months. It is a good reminder for us, not necessarily to not collect stuff, but rather to be sure that we own our stuff, not the other way round.

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