Two words that first came to mind when I pulled out my notebook last night, in tears, and jotted down my thoughts.
For Lent this year, I’m giving up possessions. Because I’m tired of all the crap and clutter that choke space. Because the Bible says not to be a slave to our possessions. And because it’s my New Year’s resolution to live a simpler life. (We’ll see how it goes.)
Each night I must give up a possession, so that when Lent ends on Easter, I will own 40 fewer “things.”
On Sunday night, I tackled a box of my childhood cards and letters. It was full of brightly colored envelopes, nearly every one of which had resealed after years of hot and cold in my parents’ attic.
I reopened each card, with adult hands. They smelled musty. Most of them came from people who are now dead.
I hurtled back in time — to happy birthdays and dinners at our house and holidays. Again, I was drawing animals alongside Aunt Tessie. Her old hands shook so that she could not draw straight lines. Judging by the pictures, my little hands were even less still.
To fight the tears and the emotions, I scribbled in a reporter notebook. Mascara ran all down my face and burned my eyes and gray tears hit the notepad. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. I am only 26, I thought, and yet most of the people who surrounded me in childhood now lay in graves.
Birthday after birthday, for every Christmas, Valentine’s day, Halloween and Easter, I have letters signed by people who are gone: “Uncle Walt (Harry),” or “Harry (Uncle Walt)”, “Uncle Howard,” “Aunt Tessie,” “Barbara,” “Sandra,” “Nana,” and, the most painful: “lots of love & kisses, Mommy & Daddy XXXOOO.”
As the birthdays pass, before the 16th one, they each die out.
That I am crying like a child on the livingroom floor of a Seattle condo, remembering these family members, is actually a blessing. I was adopted by parents born in the 1920s. I’m well-adjusted because they poured buckets of warm liquid love into my soul.
So loved. If there was every any doubt that my parents cherished me, the proof is in those cards. I was struck by the number of cards at Easter, which I don’t consider a card holiday today, and by the fact that on some birthdays, my parents gave me two cards.
Care Bears and Rainbow Brite, repeatedly, remind me that I was a “sweet daughter.” (That’s probably a lot less than true, but I grant myself permission to believe it anyway.)
On the cover of one, a kitten on roller skates declares, “It’s fun to be five!”
This is why my wedding has been so hard for me to face. I’ve already left my childhood and most of the people in it long before I was ready.
When I shared these thoughts with Derek, who stood in the kitchen and watched, his eyes turned pink. “Save as much as you want,” he said.
But I threw out most everything: the grade school valentines and thank-you notes from teachers. By the time I regret this, they’ll have already been recycled.
We can’t hang on to the past, just like we can’t hang on to our possessions. Those objects in the box are dead. Their purpose lives in me.
Derek and I both agreed: This box counts for *at least* three nights of Lent.
In a smaller box, I tucked way every card from my parents and key cards from the rest of folks — including all notes from my first birthday and some of the pictures that Aunt Tessie drew.
I will keep them to remind myself that people who die live on in the next generation. And to remind myself to love others as much as I’ve been loved.
Happy Valentine’s Day.