“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell
After living in my childhood home for the past 35 years, I finally sold it. Leaving the home granny had brought me to as an infant was bittersweet. Since her death more than two years ago, I have vacillated countless times between a resolve to die there of old age with my collected stray cats and the urge to walk out and leave it for the squatters to ramble through. Well-meaning friends offered sage advice in my times of indecision.
“Girl, you own real estate! In New York! Shoot, you know how many people wish they had a house? In New York?”
“You’ll regret it if you sell it.”
“It’s an investment. You shouldn’t sell.”
“It’s a money pit. The needed repairs will bankrupt you.”
“You need to start over.”
“You should fix it up and then sell it so you can get more money for it.”
In the end, my decision to sell was as much an emotional one, as it was an economic one. Moving was a necessary step in helping me to heal, move on, and create my own life and happiness.
The process of moving also required me to finally sift through 3 floors and more than 3 generations of stuff, some of which I never knew existed. My house was a treasure trove of memories, and I was constantly getting sidetracked by new discoveries as I tried to beat the real estate closing clock. I cried ugly-girl, anti-sexy, headache-inducing tears as I read letters my estranged mother had written to my grandmother as a teenager, a college freshman a few months after my birth, and a prison inmate years later. It was the first time I saw my mother as someone other than a woman who had chosen drugs and her own whims over being a mother and daughter. Like me and my grandmother, she was a little girl who wanted to be loved by her mother. I laughed as I read a letter granny’s twin brother had written to her more than fifty years ago, in which he lamented, “I don’t have too much to say, because I have so many problems I can’t think straight.” Nestled between pictures and old Hallmark cards was a letter written by one of granny’s friends, asking granny for forgiveness about some perceived slight. In retrospect, the disagreement seemed trivial and this friend would later become part of the village that helped me care for granny after she developed Alzheimer’s. In another letter to granny, her best friend wrote that she had enclosed money to thank granny for her help with something. I also found a letter granny had written to the neighbor who used to stand in his backyard and cuss God out when it rained, in which granny commented that she had enclosed money in appreciation for his kindness during her illness. I discovered a list granny had written of the more than fifteen places she’d lived in since moving to New York over fifty years ago. And here I was complaining about moving for the first time in my life. Granny’s journal from 1969 reminded me that she had bestowed me with her writer’s spirit and I wondered whether our shared struggles were embedded in our DNA. A church booklet that contained a picture of a teenage minister we now know as civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, a fellow church parishioner of granny’s years ago, made me smile. Pictures of the great-grandmother I never knew made me wonder what she was like. Granny’s old bills and bank account statements from as far back as 1978 made me grateful for electronic billing and my job. I found granny’s fifth-grade report card and a school picture. She even looked like a granny at 10 years old. I wondered what the non-smiling, tough-looking little girl was thinking. I wondered if she felt loved. These items gave me a greater insight into myself, my mother and my grandmother and taught me that there is so much I do not know about our stories. Had I not decided to move, I never would have taken the time to sort through these things, always promising to get around to it “someday.” As I examined, catalogued, photographed, and packed granny’s belongings, I realized:
20. Letter writing is a lost art.
19. People in this world are very generous.
18. Granny was a hoarder (and so am I).
17. Change is necessary in order to move forward in life.
16. We are all flawed, vulnerable, and want to be loved.
15. If you take the first step, God will do the rest.
14. Paper is evil. Electronic statements and bill payment are divine.
13. Real friendships can survive misunderstandings and conflicts.
12. I am stronger than I thought.
11. Everyone has a story. Our story does not begin with us.
10. When in doubt, choose happiness.
9. It’s okay to want something different in life and to change course.
8. We are all imperfect and doing the best we can.
7. Be humbled by your elders’ struggles and grateful for their sacrifices.
6. Perspective begets compassion.
5. Letting go of some things allows you to discover and more fully embrace greater things.
4. Everything is about timing.
3. My picture of what happiness looks like is the only one that matters.
2. I am not 25 anymore and Epsom salt is my new best friend.
1. Everyone deserves to be happy. Even me.