My first move as an “adult” was when I packed all of my earthly belongings into my 1969 Toyota and headed west from Missouri to UCLA. How I crammed everything I wore and everything I had for setting up housekeeping into that square little Japanese car that looked like a shoebox on wheels is really beyond my comprehension. I even had a futon bed crammed in the backseat.
I have moved 11 times since then, the last being two weeks ago, and the difference in “stuff” that I have had to move is astonishing to me. As I write this week’s column, I am still surrounded by my newest companions: hundreds of brown cardboard boxes. They taunt me silently to relate to them in a meaningful fashion. I am choosing to ignore them for now. We are all familiar with the fact that moving is a big one on the Stress Hit Parade, somewhere behind death and divorce. Yes, moving is a bitch, but for me, it comes down to two critical issues: garage sales and ghosts.
I can explain. When you move in modern-day America, you must have a “garage sale.” Most of us will not actually sell out of our garages but we all know what it means: Get rid of the accumulated detritus of your life. Not as easy as it seems. What is really difficult about setting up the garage sale is deciding what items are junk and not worthy of being moved to the next “garage” and what are irreplaceable treasures. I have known the wanton thrill of tossing all that stuff that has been orphaned in the back of closets and cupboards. I have even felt the altruistic pleasure of letting a sweet elderly lady buy my incredibly expensive and once fashionable lamp for a buck. I have also been known to go digging through the dumpster, plagued by a case of “on second thought :” and also buying back that lamp from the sweet little old lady for two bucks.
Painfully, I have sold a set of crystal Hanukkah candle holders from my grandmother (I am not Jewish and neither was she), a pair of bellbottom pants I bought on London’s Carnaby Street in 1968 (I cannot even begin to fit into them), a terrible painting of the Little Prince from a college girlfriend (whom I can barely remember). Each sale seemed like giving away a part of myself. I guess I haven’t quite gotten the memo that I am not my things.
And then there are the ghosts. I happened to live in a 100-year-old Summerland house that was purported to have a resident ghost. My dogs seemed to see her but I never did. But I do know about the ghosts of memory that our homes corral. Packing up the stuff that filled up that old Summerland house, I became increasingly aware of those ghosts’ presence as the space emptied. When the movers had made their last haul, I was left alone in the house that had become suddenly and strangely empty and quiet. I looked around the space that had held my life for almost 10 years, and I came face to face with those ghosts of memory. What was I to do? I could have fled, or barked at them as my dogs used to do. Or I could face them. I could let their laughter fill the room; I could sit with their sadness and taste their tears. I could see their merry parties that filled this space, the love that was realized here, and the losses.
I let myself sit with the ghosts for a while, and then I set them free, closed the door, and left, feeling lighter.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at HealthspanWeb.com for more information.