Selling a house, and moving everything out of it, can teach us some valuable lessons about people – including ourselves. We learn what we’re made of! We discover which members of our personal circle most value and support us. We uncover inner resources that catch us by surprise. Through the course of the transition, our perspectives shift and waver. Our vision blurs and sharpens. Depending on our ages. we might exclaim, “This wasn’t so bad – now I know better for next time!” or “I will never move again until they carry me out in a pine box!”
First things first, however: our mainstays and companions for the duration. Without them, we simply couldn’t make it. They’re the ones who arrive on our doorsteps, or provide us with behind-the-scenes assistance, even when they stand to gain nothing. They just want to be there, either in person or otherwise, with a word or gesture of encouragement. A friend or family member will pitch in to wrap dishes or pack kitchen goods. Or volunteer to pet-sit. Or clean out the garage. Or haul trash to the dump. Or just share a positive message at the end of a hard day, maybe a Facebook joke, perhaps just a “thinking of you” text when it really counts. Not everyone can be physically present. The older we get, the less strength we have. The less mobile we are. But kindness takes many forms. An upbeat and thoughtful note puts extra bounce in our steps. It means someone cared enough to share a moment of his or her day – just for us.
In the case of a short-distance move, someone might bring a truck and load it with bulkier and more awkward items – drawers, footstools, chairs, framed art. Things that aren’t quite heavy enough to leave for the moving van but too substantial to shove in a car. Things we want to see safely transported because of their sentimental or familial value. Some people actually enjoy having a hand in this sort of thing. An acquaintance will drop off a steaming mug of coffee and a stack of cardboard boxes left from his or her own move. Someone else will bag up clothing – a very painful experience for a recently-bereaved or newly-separated homeowner, or a parent whose grown children are now gone off to their own destinies – and take it to a local charity or pickup site. The possibilities extend from one horizon to the other. Human charity does begin at home and in the home.
We also find out who’s mainly at the edges of our lives, and can be counted on not to materialize or communicate even when the need becomes obvious. “Call if I can help,” some will casually remark, knowing we never will. Or emails and private conversations will fall silent. Messages once exchanged on a daily basis will suddenly stop. It’s as if the usual senders are afraid of what we might ask. They shouldn’t be. Most of us are too proud and/or stubborn to ask for anything! We can hope, maybe, but we’re also realistic. These no-shows can include some folks we’ve always considered to be right there with us, every step of the way. It can be disappointing to find out otherwise – but that, too, is valuable knowledge. And we should never impose on someone else’s presumed ties to us, nor on their time. This, too, is inconsiderate. We cannot expect people to simply drop everything for us, not even if we’ve previously done it for them. People have commitments; illnesses strike; things change. It isn’t always a tit-for-tat deal. Both sides of the equation aren’t necessarily equal. And it’s not going to make us any happier if we keep a tally of good deeds unacknowledged or favours unreturned.
Still, half the secret of living successfully is knowing whom to trust – and this rebounds on us, too. We need to stare at the mirror and reflect on the person we see in it. We can hardly ask, “Where are you? I need you!” if the response will be, Well, where were YOU when I needed you? We must be worthy of trust. The first stone can’t be tossed through that mirror unless it shows a perfect image. In other words, we can’t even pick up a single pebble.
Then there are the homeowners for whom moving is intensely private and personal. They don’t wish to have others involved in it. They much prefer the do-it-yourselves technique. Some associations with various household goods might not be happy ones. There could be questions which the owners don’t want to hear, let alone answer. The reasons for the move could be the result of tragedy, marital disruption, financial hardship or some other unfortunate occurrence. In such cases, there’s an element of tent-folding, so that in the end, it becomes possible to “silently steal away”, as Longfellow suggests. At the end of the day, departure is fraught with both regret and release.
Yet there are those precious few who do mean it when they offer help, and hope to be approached. They truly want to be called, and they will come. In fact, they won’t even wait to be called. They’ll see our vehicles in the yard and know we’re home and hard at work. We’ll begin a day of packing, then notice them pulling into the driveway. “What would like us to do?” they’ll ask, then do it. Our relief and gratitude might well extend to hugs and tears. For the truly stiff-necked among us, who simply cannot seek assistance, this intervention comes as an immense and therapeutic boon to body and soul.
Often, these impromptu sidekicks reap some of the goodness they’re sowing, because they might well leave with useful stuff we don’t wish to carry to another location – small appliances, books, decorative items. Candles and boxed foods and area rugs. Table lamps and flower pots. Whatever catches their attention in the process of being helpful! Whatever we’re happy to offer by way of a thank-you gift. Everyone walks away happy. This, too, is a blessing all around.
Although the above is a generic piece, and not necessarily relevant to my present circumstances, I am in the middle of selling a house and clearing out. My husband has passed away and, since we had two properties – town and country – I can’t possibly manage both. So the town place will be passed to another family. It’s a lovely home and I’m sad to leave it behind but there’s little choice. It’s imbued with David’s spirit. I hope he will be content to wander in my country gardens now. He enjoyed those too. I have chosen to dwell in a modest place where nature is close and quietness surrounds me.
We’ve been party to something like thirty real estate transactions so far, both as sellers and buyers. With David or solo, I’ve spent a rather nomadic existence by times. Land, a woodland cabin or two, country places, town properties, building lots … we’d acquire them, enjoy them, sell them as our situations changed and hope to break even if not make a bit extra. We once had to move my mother from her home to ours, when she became too infirm to live there alone. Let’s just say that was an interesting experience, because she was a packrat and she and my father never threw away anything.
Out of that particular undertaking has grown a healthy skepticism when it comes to saving stuff – yet, well, I still do it. I’m my mother’s daughter, all right. My husband, having grown up in extreme poverty, was also inclined to collect possessions. Combine two people of similar habits and you create a house-moving monster! We’re made, not born that way. When I finally head for another stage of my own journey, my own daughter will be faced with all my leftovers. I hope she’ll find something she can keep, cherish and hand down to her descendants. I guess everyone wishes for this. We save because someday, somehow, we pray that we will be remembered through our material legacies. These are far less important, however, than the other kind, the intangibles – qualities of character, expressions of kindness, acts of selfless love and concern. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. (1 Timothy 6:7)
So today is yet another in the necklace hung around my throat, a bead to be counted off as each task concludes. When all is finished, I will tuck away the empty thread of this year’s memories. It has been a difficult passage through the Valley of the Shadow. Still, light falls on the mountains and illumines the path beyond. I remain grateful for what I’ve been given, for all whom I love, for those who care about me as well. I’ll close with Longfellow’s poem, from which my earlier quotation has been taken. The “day” stands for me as a symbol of all that we do, of all that is now, but cannot continue except through some kind of transformation. The sun moves to another part of the world. We welcome a cessation of the brighter hours with their demands and obligations. The onset of darkness is merely our respite from care.
The Day is Done
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night
As a feather wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of the day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of time.
For, like the strains of martial music,
Their mighty throughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And tonight I long for rest.
Read from the humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read the treasured volume
The poem of my choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.