Don't Open That Door
St. Patrick's Day at the Plum City Care Center
Some of us keep our spaces empty because we are afraid of clutter and mess. Others of us keep our spaces jam-packed with “stuff” because we are afraid of emptiness. I tend towards the first option, my dad the latter. He always has had trouble parting with things. In January, before my parents went to the nursing home, I was trying to tidy up his bedroom. I asked him about a big folder of Magnetic Resonance Images (MRI’s) behind his bedroom door. They were films of my deceased brother’s cancer (Tim died sixteen years ago). Innocently, I asked him why he hadn’t thrown them away.
Without a pause he answered, “I was looking for an adhesive to attach them to the wall. I’ve been banging up the walls with my wheelchair and I thought the films would protect the walls.”
I was speechless—even for my dad this was extraordinary “hold on to it, you might need it some day” thinking. The idea of Tim’s cancer wallpapering the room might be therapy or expressive art for some but my dad doesn’t really believe in therapy and I don’t think he has ever been to a museum. So I did the only thing that seemed reasonable—I started to laugh—the kind of laugh where you know you shouldn’t but can’t stop. Who was this man?
I knew I was just scratching the surface. “Things” have a way of breeding more “things” when my dad is in charge. In March I went back to Wisconsin to tackle one of the scary rooms—my dad’s “office.” When I opened the door, I wanted to hide or pretend that I wasn’t related.
On a generous day I think my dad intended to let go of things (eventually) but he ran out of mañanas and on a less generous day I think there’s a section in the DSM (manual for the diagnosis of mental disorders) on hoarding that was written with him in mind. It took two weeks but I eventually I discovered the desk and the floor. There was over sixty years of stuff—empty boxes, two-for-one sales, broken stuff, missing parts, repurposed things that never quite found their purpose, projects that remained dreams, and paper—lots of paper—financial, medical, political, religious, books, magazines, newspapers, photos, love letters, cards—easily over 2000 pounds of paper. Every day my dad would ask if I had found any treasures. My first instinct was to hit him over the head with one of his treasures but buried in the mess was my own kaleidoscope of emotions brought into focus by all the “things” —anger, resentment, admiration, respect, sadness, love, grace, forgiveness and laugh till you cry discoveries.
Maybe the questions of life boil down to holding on or letting go. Aging both limits our choices and makes them more obvious. Even though my dad believed and preached that we should not store treasures on earth, turns out it’s easier said than done. During our lives we accumulate experiences, people, and things—they provide meaning—they let us know that we were here, that we loved and were loved. Yet they can also weigh us down. They can consume more and more time and resources to hold on to them, preserve and store them.
To clean or not to clean—some of us need to create more space and some of us need to allow a bit more mess. But all of us need to open that door and remember to laugh.
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Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.