They say that when you're drowning, your entire life flashes by. But that's not the only time this happens. It also happens while you're downsizing.
A dozen times every day I disinter some long-ignored object that brings up a whole chunk of my life, and I have to ask myself, does this picture I painted, this article I wrote deserve to be kept, or thrown out? You can see that downsizing is a lot like drowning, only worse, because you have to pass judgment on every bit.
The books--forty-eight boxfuls--were the first to go . As I parted with my beloved parasitology textbook I asked myself, what have I retained about the life-cycle of the tapeworm, the loa-loa worm, the blood fluke? Little more than the ability to predict, when I found Wolfie and Bisou snacking on a dead rabbit, that they would get a case of Taenia, which they did.
And what about the stacks of French novels and plays and essays that I not only read but taught? I can barely remember who wrote Madame Bovary. Surely the tide of text that washed over my brain year in and year out left some residue--a starfish or a striped shell or a piece of sea glass? Some days all I can find are old plastic shopping bags. Other days the sand is bare.
The art paraphernalia took me some time to sort through. The dried-out paint tubes, the half-filled sketch books, the dusty mallets and chisels. The framed pictures that fill my closet. The stone heads that adorn my woods. Now it's almost all gone. Whew!
At the moment, I'm working on the mountain of implements left behind by the other great fantasy that ruled my life, the earth mother myth. There's the goat milking stand that my husband made; the cheese press (ditto); the heat lamp for the day-old chicks. All those morning chores, those barn cleanings, those births and deaths--where did they go?
This all sounds a little melancholy, but I am not in the least bitter or disappointed. I would say that I am mostly surprised. Surprised that all that effort and striving, those years and years of cramming and pushing should have led up to...this: me, getting ready to move with my spouse and my dogs to a retirement community, with one small truckload of worldly goods.
It seems disproportionate somehow, the work and the strain. It's as if I'd spent my entire life preparing, and now I'm having some kind of graduation and I'm not even sure what I majored in, let alone what kind of work I'm fit for.
"Leap!" a yoga teacher once told me, "And a net will appear." I have always liked a good leap. Now, as the waves crash around me and the taste of salt is in my mouth, I trust that the net is on its way.