For over a year now, my brothers and I have been slowly clearing our childhood homestead, readying it for sale. I had spent my time there largely carrying out the myriad “loose” items that had collected over the years. Easy to bag and box and carry and drag. My Mom’s scrapbooks from when she was a little girl. My Dad’s artwork. Eight thousand rubber bands and plastic margarine containers my Mom kept. Every holiday card they ever received. A thousand odds and ends of dishes and glasses and silverware and pots and pans…
There were the file cabinet drawers filled with taxes and cancelled checks from the 70s. Stocks of china and books and things people left when they went to college, moved out, moved back in, left for different states, different lives. Left for….Heaven.
Now that we are down to near-empty rooms, there are items that, when moved in, had no intention of ever leaving. An entertainment center that even the movers told me that first day, “Tell us where you want it because it’s never moving.”
Well, it’s moving.
My brothers dismantled it and dragged it up the stairs. That heavy-as-hell workbench and that storage bin that I never could of imagined where we got it or how it even fit downstairs for fifty years….
It’s all harder going out.
Like entertainment centers and steel file cabinets and seemingly unmovable work benches, we move thoughts into our minds at an earlier time. When we are younger, when we are excited and hopeful, perhaps when we are naïve.
We take in “stuff” over the years….Things we’ve heard and things we’ve learned and things we’ve rationalized and stories we’ve told ourselves. We pile in the rumors and the family stories and the beliefs and attitudes. Most of the time we don’t research them to find out whether they are true or valid or need to change. We pile them in and soon we just vacuum around them.
It’s harder going out.
Collectively, as a Society, as a human race, we are so slow to change our beliefs on so many things. What skin color means and what a woman deserves to make and what a family should look like and what a government should do….
More close to home, we set in stone what we mean, ourselves. What roles we play and where we shine and puff out our chests. We find comfort in the piles and bags and boxes filled with stuff we will never again use because they reflect a comfort time. They validate a life’s work, they prove we were loved or able or popular or important or successful.
It’s harder going out.
Each month I sit down at my kitchen table and I write out bills and I log how much they were on a sheet I brilliantly titled the Bill Log. Genius.
I was looking at the amount totals for gas, electricity and water and I was amazed to find they are virtually the same. Every month.
Within a dollar, within pennies, I am such a ridiculous creature of habit that there is virtually no change in my utility usage over an entire year.
As simple as it sounds, if I want to change my utility bills, I have to change how I live. I have to take a shorter shower, wash clothes a couple of times fewer each month, use paper plates or cups….Whatever. In order to change those numbers, I have to change the behavior driving them.
One of the hardest parts of recovering from brain injury is the realization that, by and large, once that brain is struck and damaged, things are immediately changed.
We might not know it yet. We might be preoccupied with hospital stays and therapies and surrounded by medical bills and overturned realities….
But we have already changed.
The reason my brothers are dismantling that entertainment center and dragging out my parents’ bedroom set and carrying up that old work bench is because we are different now. Not everything fits anymore. We don’t need some of those things.
I moved to a condo because I have just spent more than half my life cutting the lawn on a double lot that has fifteen trees to trim and leaves to rake and lines to edge and bushes to shape.
I’m not a young kid anymore and I’m not heading in that direction.
I have changed.
And so have you.
There are beliefs and traditions and practices and roles and comforts and routines and yes, furniture, that no longer fit any more. Somewhere along the way we came to think of that as a bad thing. As a failure or a problem or a shame.
In reality, we are meant to change and evolve and clean out and give away and drag up from the basement.
Perhaps we were duped by growing up in a time when everyone worked at the same job for forty years and left with a gold watch, a pension and a chicken buffet dinner. We slapped bondo on our cars and drove them for twenty years. We saved plastic containers and wire bread ties and we actually sewed the holes in our socks.
Sometimes it’s more effort to stay the same. To keep dusting and vacuuming around that work bench or that entertainment center or that treadmill that no longer fits.
I made a Time Capsule for each of my parent’s things. Stuff that was sooo them. Special things.
I threw out my Mom’s garter belts and her bathing cap from 1962.
Suffering a brain injury or any major life change is like moving out of a house. If you haven’t been clearing it and maintaining it over the years, it’s harder going out. There’s just so much clutter.
I’m in a beautiful condo now. It is clean and well-repaired and it reflects the styles and personality and place that I’m at now. I don’t need that entertainment center any longer.
Beyond the obvious setbacks and devastating realities of significant head injury or life change lies the whisper that beckons.
It sneaks in and makes the curtains dance. It smells of freshly-cut lawn after a long winter.
It is a fresh start. It is change. It is Spring.
Nobody can take or belittle or make frivolous the remarkable changes that a brain injury brings. You have suffered a personal winter for the ages.
But it’s unnatural to wear our parkas and our boots when the storm breaks. When the skies clear. When the sun warms.
You deserve Spring. You deserve to start anew without all the thoughts and roles and practices and routines and work benches of a life before.
Now I sit in my new condo in the quiet mornings when the sun streaks through my front window. I smile as it reflects through the beautiful green glass on a copper lantern that was my parents’. I smile at how wonderful the few pieces of furniture I kept compliment my paint and carpeting choices.
And I laugh. And I hope. And I dream.