I stood in an empty house this morning, in empty echoing rooms. And so it was done. The place has been cleared. After months of near-daily visits of sorting and removing, binning and donating, and salvaging for sale, and caching for keeps, I had finally lost the will and called in the clearance company. I know there was still sale-able stuff, potentially valuable stuff, but I'd had enough.
And so it was done, and I stood in the empty echoing rooms.
"Good progress" a friend said, "but how do you feel?"
How indeed? It was a question I had studiously ignored until it was asked, and even then, it wasn't one I could quickly answer. Above all else, I feel tired. Physically, unslept, unrested, exhausted. My eyes are strained, my limbs ache, I am sleepy.
Mentally, I feel surprisingly positive. While the paid guys did what I didn't have the strength or inclination to do in moving the heavy stuff, saving my final wants for storage, ransacking the loft for whatever has been stashed over the last 50 years…I have been planning next year. What next? How? And why? I am looking forward to next year, not only because it can only be better than this one, but because I have rediscovered my direction or created a new one, I'm not sure which. Either works.
Emotionally…ah, that's different. Emotionally, I feel sad.
Sad is not the same as unhappy. Unhappiness is a negative emotion, a lack of a desired state. Sadness is in a weird way, a more positive emotion. Sadness is still about loss, but in a way that simply acknowledges the loss and lets it be. It is painful, but not damaging. Sadness is a wound that knows it will heal.
The echoing rooms whisper echoes of the past. Not just memories that I shared in, but many pre-dating me, stories…family festivals and family feuds…laughter and anger and fear and depression. It is a long time since this building was a happy home – I can only assume that it was once. In the long years that I have known it the energy in the property has always been tinged with sorrow, bleakness, resentments, unrealised hopes and lost dreams and outright depression. It has been a lot for one small house to bear. So my sadness is not just for myself, but for the other lives lived out here, that maybe didn't have as much joy in them as they should have.
My sadness is also for what I have lost. For the last life lived out here, that also didn't have as much joy as it deserved, no matter how hard I tried. I am sad that I have lost my love, sad that my love wasn't enough to ease the struggles that I only knew part of, sad that there is nothing I can do about it now.
I feel a kind of guilt, for having not salvaged more, for having dismantled the wreckage of three lives and only kept fragments. But I know also that I have done what I can and that in all of those "not now" boxes there are treasures to be reconsidered, research projects waiting to be born, history, not tragic remnants, but scatterings of past happiness, the moments lived within those walls or other walls before them or in far-flung corners of the planet that I don't yet know about. There are love letters from over a century ago, and others that I wrote (but don't remember writing) a quarter of century ago. I feel regret that I did not save all the things he would never have let go. I feel relief that it is now done.
I also feel that I will feel better about it, when the renovations are done and I start bringing the treasures out of store. I will feel more comfortable when some of those things are again part of my own lived environment. Things we bought. Things that mark the synchronicity of our separate lives. Souvenirs of my travels that were gifted and have now found their way back to me. I know that there are fragments of my own history also in those boxes. Meanwhile I take consolation in the ticking of the ancient clock, that sometimes forgets the hour when it chimes.
I look at the floor and see how the building was originally configured, and can better picture some of the tales he told.
I look at the walls and see how I want to fill these rooms. Differently.
I want to fill them with light and order and love and laughter. I want to turn the place back into a home, and this time into one full of joy and spirit. I think about the space I have and what I might do with it. I want to cleanse it of its past and give it a future.
Maybe that's what I want to do for me too.
I stood in an empty house this morning. A friend asked me "how do you feel?" How could I begin to say how I feel? I believe in sacred spaces, because I believe that places absorb what happens within them and they reflect it back. That – I believe – is why we can feel the peace of a church or temple or ancient grove despite not giving a fig for the founders and faithful who honour it. We feel the history of place. Visit any ruin or ancient cathedral and watch for a while. You will see people touching the walls. If you open your heart and your mind to spirit, or the force, or the soul of the universe or just to the possibility that there is something beyond our current understanding, then you "feel" a place just as much as you see or hear it.
Now that the place is empty, it feels hollow, still sad, but also – as if a building could feel! – hopeful. It feels less of a wreck than it did when it was cluttered. Like it too can now take a breath and wait to see what life will next hold.
In working my way through everything that was left behind, I had many "oh wow!" moments as well as all the "what, really?!!" ones. So I also feel that I may have taken a very long time to make very little progress, but I have done it the right way. I feel that I have managed to maintain a connection that will always matter to me, no matter what happens next.
I look back and part of me wonders that I had the strength to get this far. I look back and wonder at the connections. Six degrees of separation? I can get to Charlie Chaplin in three, I can get to Diana Dors and the Drifters and The Who in two. I look back and wonder about the things that were not to be found. I look back and wonder at how insignificant we all are when it comes down to it, and at how quickly a century disappears…and all of the lives and loves it takes down with it.
But to be honest, I do this afterwards, back in my own home trying to answer that 'how do you feel?' question.
As I stood in those empty rooms…I suppose what I felt most was curiosity. What will this look like this time next year? What can I do with this?
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