Monday, July 24, 2006

you can't take it with you

I was talking to my mother a couple of days ago- shes one of those women whose conversations you spend a lifetime looking forward to- and we were talking, as we do, of attachments. She is in Iowa, where I grew up, packing the beautiful home she and my step-dad bought not two years ago. Packing is a thing my mother has become an expert at. She and my step-dad, Steve, have relocated five times in the past six years, primarily for work related reasons. They always hoped, however, to go back to Iowa, and two years ago they did.

Most people thought they were crazy to leave beautiful, temperate Montecito, California for to the tempestuous weather and simple landscape of Iowa, but my parents have always had their reasons. They bought a lovely house in the town where I grew up, spent four months renovating it into a home, and then went for a weekend visit to Steves mom, Gerry, who lives in Carlsbad, California, just north of San Diego. Within the first few days there, it was clear they wouldnt be able to return home just yet. Gerry, 85, was living alone with an economy-sized bottle of cheap wine and a gas stove she frequently left on without realizing it. My parents needed to find her help, or be it.

They decided on two weeks. Thats how long they figured it would take to gauge the situation. They began to go through and clear out the spaces in Gerrys home, which had become cluttered beyond recognition. Shed held onto everything: unopened mail from the Publishers Clearing House or Citibank (I might need it one day, she said), a moth eaten sock that had long been widowed by its other half. Ingredients with names that could be pronounced replaced the processed products that filled her fridge. They took her for walks and engaged her in conversation to keep her mind off the pain that had invaded her body in the form of severe arthritis. All the while, the house in Iowa sat quietly, alone.

So my mom is back in Iowa now, packing yet again. She and Steve just bought a place next door to Gerry and put the Iowa house up for sale. Its their duty, or karma, to take care of her, they say, and they are living up to their word.

You wont believe it, my mom says when I talk to her on the phone. All this stuff!
Thirteen boxes of books, eight boxes of kitchen equipment, five boxes of films. Where are we going to put all the photo albums? she exclaims.
You cant take it with you, I say, and she knows exactly what I mean.

All this comes to mind because I was watching a bit of Warner Herzogs The Wheel of Time today, reconsidering the beauty of sand Mandelas. I think they are perhaps the most beautiful of all things because they are a perfect incarnation of impermanence. There is something very peaceful in the idea of focusing such a concerted amount of time and energy on a construction made of infinitesimal grains of sand, painstakingly laid on top of a carefully mapped blueprint of a sacred geometric representation of a visualization, only to allow that final manifestation, the result of all that hard work, to be blown away.

It brings to mind the many things I hold on to: thoughts, memories, emotions, identities, bric-a-brac of all shapes and sizes. Just like Gerry, my life becomes a storage of clutter, of things I hold onto for fear of 'losing' myself, firmly invested in the belief of my own identity that Ive consciously and unconsciously constructed with the same painstaking effort and precision that the monks display in creating their sand Mandelas, though I resist with fierce determination to let the winds blow away my concept of self or my physical existence.

You cant take it with you, I say, and she knows exactly what I mean.

1 comment:

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